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I wrote the following essay in Fall of 1999 for the special X-Philes edition of The Journal of Film and Video. The essay was ultimately rejected, but it still holds a special place in my heart, so I thought it should be published somewhere.

Contextual Intercourse:
Decoding Sex in The X-Files

Chara A. Williams

"Should they or shouldn't they have sex?" The question arises from the mouths of X-Files fans as often as "are there or aren't there aliens?" A heated, inexhaustible, and at times hostile debate has taken place between X-Philes, both online and off, over the fate of Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully's sex lives. The most oft asked question on the eve of The X-Files movie's release in June 1998 was not, "Do Mulder and Scully discover the aliens once and for all?" but rather, "Do Mulder and Scully kiss once and for all?" Like a number of television shows before it--Moonlighting, Remington Steele, Northern Exposure, etc.--The X-Files titillates its audience with flirtations between the two lead characters, abundant insinuations that the characters are perfect for one another, and the possibility that someday the characters might have sex. Within the show itself, Mulder and Scully are repeatedly mistaken as husband and wife, or at least lovers. When this happens, one of the agents will set the record straight. As Mulder states in "Dreamland II," Scully is just his "partner." But "partner" has many definitions--as many as their relationship has nuances--and this has created enough sexual tension, dissension, and confusion between the agents, as well as the fans, to last six years and counting. All focusing on the physical consummation of Mulder and Scully's relationship.

So... Should they or shouldn't they? Actually, the question is moot. Agent Mulder and Agent Scully have already had sex. Not literally, of course, not in the flesh on the screen for all to bear witness to. The world The X-Files has created, both within its own boundaries and without (through its connection to the fans) prohibits such an act, but The X-Files does not only encompass the literal. The extreme nature of the show leads directly to metaphor, and metaphor is how the audience relates to The X-Files, how we take the paranormal fodder and apply it to our lives, make it our own. The metaphor is where the deepest connection between the viewers and the show takes place, and the metaphor is also where the deepest connection between the characters takes place. It is how Mulder and Scully have (and have had) sex.

[x]Making That Connection

Fluidity between reality and metaphor in The X-Files is founded on two key structural premises:

  1. The drama is based in supernatural phenomenon.
  2. The plots are unresolved.

The drama in The X-Files can be categorized as Science Fiction / Horror. It revolves around paranormal events that the audience does not directly relate to or encounter on the literal level. Most of us, for example, do not worry that a liver eating mutant who can stretch and contort his body is going to use his ability to enter our homes and feast on our organs, as Eugene Tooms does in the episode "Squeeze." However, the emotion behind the drama, the paranoia and terror, is applicable to our lives in very real way. The idea at the core of the the liver-eating-mutant episode is that no matter how well we try to protect ourselves, no matter how many locks we put on our doors, we are not safe; we are all susceptible to the random, anonymous violence escalating in our world today. You never know if or when it will happen to you, but you do know that it could happen to you. By using the supernatural as metaphor, The X-Files hones in on our greatest fears and concerns. The entire genre of Science Fiction provides the foundation for such metaphorical commentary, as Vivian Sobchack points on in her essay on Science Fiction films:

...the SF film gives concrete narrative shape and visible form to our changing historical imagination of social progress and disaster, and to the ambiguities of being human in a world where advanced technology has altered both the contours and meaning of personal and social existence. Its very spatial and temporal fluidity, its visual plasticity and focus on technological transformation, mark SF not merely as a genre of the fantastic but also as the film genre most readily able to symbolically respond to and poetically figure the anxieties and hopes that inform its contemporaneous historical context. (231)

Depicting drama in a supernatural capacity allows The X-Files to "symbolically" and "poetically" expound on the travails that we face in everyday life without detailing those travails at face value. Most dramas attempt to portray reality as is, and in doing so, they are destined to fail at making a lasting and personal connection to the audience due to the restrictions that the television format places on them. In their need to keep the viewer's attention week in and week out, the shows must accentuate the ups and downs of characters' lives, magnify the intensity of the day to day routine which they purport to be mirroring. This does not work. Life just is not that dramatic. Life for the most part is people sitting at their desk for 8 hours followed by sitting in front of the television for four more, not being diagnosed with a life threatening illness, committing adultery, or being raped on a weekly basis. The connection between the viewers and the show--how the viewers translate what they are watching to their own lives--becomes frayed because of the distortions necessary to keep their attention.1

The supernatural bent of The X-Files alleviates this fraying. Mulder and Scully are investigating the paranormal, so obviously they are going to encounter something exciting and out of the ordinary every week to keep us preoccupied. Because the drama is paranormal, we do not directly relate to it; we suspend our disbelief both in the drama itself (vampires, werewolves, aliens, etc.) and the sheer amount of drama the characters have to go through in their lives, but we still empathize with the characters. This empathy arises from our connection to and recognition of (consciously or subconsciously) the metaphor behind the drama, which is much more powerful than a connection to the literal drama due to the greater freedom of interpretation inherent in the metaphor. The metaphor allows the viewers to apply what they are seeing to their own lives, to make it their own.

The X-Files takes personalization of the text a step further by refusing to resolve its plots. Almost every episode of the show has an indefinite end. Mulder and Scully almost never capture the mutant or the alien or the murderer, or if they do, there are still disparate explanations for what transpired. More than one possibility always exists, and is in fact built in to the show due to the agents' radically different but equally valid viewpoints--Scully is a rational scientist and Mulder is an emotional, intuitive believer in paranormal phenomenon. During an episode, both characters will put forth their respective explanations of events, and for the most part neither explanation is ruled out entirely, though the paranormal is generally preferenced. The unresolved plots, like the drama itself, feed into the metaphorical aspect of the show. In the context of a personalized reading of the text by the audience, any sort of resolution would be patronizing because the over arching allegory is directed at our lives, which are not black and white. With no clear-cut answers, viewers are free to add their own interpretation(s) to what has occurred, and in doing so, translate the metaphor to who they are, how they live, what they fear. This creates a distinctive relationship between the audience and the show, a relationship that must be consummated on the metaphorical level because the world of the show is supernatural and the world of the audience is natural. If we accept the show at face value, accept The X-Files world of aliens and government conspiracies and multitudes of monsters as a literal rendering of our own world, we either reject the show as silly, or we believe, and in turn we ourselves are rejected as silly. We live in a rational world where these things do not exist, therefore a literal connection between the worlds does not work. However, a metaphorical connection made possible by the supernatural premise and unresolved plots does. In this way, we are a reflection of the show and the show is a reflection of us.

Mulder and Scully's relationship mimics the structure of the show: the drama between the two agents is rooted in its superhuman premise--that they have remained platonic "partners"--and unresolved sexual tension. On the literal level, Mulder and Scully are FBI partners who, over the course of six years together, have come to trust no one but each other, though this does not include having sex. However, the structure of the relationship, like the structure of the show, allows the literal to bleed into the metaphorical on a regular basis. A sexual relationship can therefore exist in the metaphorical realm between the agents even though it does not and cannot exist within the established literal boundaries of the show.

[x]The Cycle of Death: Sex and Xes

Scully: Harold, did you and Chrissy engage in consensual sexual intercourse that night?
Harold: If her father finds out, I'm a dead man.
--"Jose Chung's From Outer Space"

Mulder and Scully inhabit a world where sex is monstrous, an X-File itself. In the rare instances when it occurs, it is often accompanied by unexplainable phenomenon, and the characters that engage in it are subjected to violence, horror, or other traditional X-Files drama. The more explicit the sex, the more horrendous the resulting drama. For example, the first season episode "Genderbender," has the agents investigating an isolationist religious group comprised of aliens who all have the ability to gender shift. One of the members, Marty, leaves the confines of the group to see the glamorous world he has only read about in magazines. The first scene of the episode shows Marty, as a woman, having sex with a man, and the man going into convulsions and dying in the midst of the act. Medical tests reveal large amounts of pheromones in the victim's blood. He was killed by sex. The scene establishes early on in the history of The X-Files the repercussions of intimacy with a stranger: the man had a one-night stand, and the result was death.

Similar scenarios equating sex with death recur throughout the series. In "Avatar," Assistant Director Skinner meets a woman in a bar the night after signing his divorce papers. The two seemingly hit it off, and they get a hotel room together and have sex. Upon waking the next morning, Skinner finds the woman murdered, her neck snapped, in the bed beside him. He is obviously suspected of the murder, and must go to extreme measures to prove his innocence. Skinner learns first hand the consequences of having sex with strangers in The X-Files world. Even more grotesquely fatal consequences of intimacy with a stranger arise in "2Shy." The subject of the episode, Virgil Incanto, has a chemical deficiency that prevents his body from producing adequate oil and fatty acids to keep him alive. Virgil has a specialized way to supplement the deficiency--he can digest other people's fat to replenish his own supply. But where to find the people? The internet, of course. Incanto seduces overweight women online and convinces them to go out with him not to satisfy his libido, but to satisfy his need for fat. A kiss from Incanto results in stomach enzymes being vomitted up on a woman and her body fat digested, so that only a slimy skeleton remains. In this episode, the sexual act is not even consummated. The woman is literally consumed by just a kiss. The natural progression of the kiss would be to sexual intercourse, but the natural progression of the kiss with Incanto is to death--death replaces sex. The women Incanto comes into contact with are emphatically punished for their desire to have a romantic encounter, for their desire for intimacy with a man, and for the way they go about pursuing this. The theme running through these episodes is clear: sex is horrendous and if you choose to engage in it you will be subject to terrible repercussions. When explicitly seen in The X-Files, sex either results in death, or sex is death.

Even when the sex is only verbally acknowledged, if you are the subject of the mentioning, watch out--X-File horror will ensue. In "Jose Chung's From Outer Space," Mulder and Scully question the teenaged Harold Lamb regarding his girlfriend Chrissy Giorgio, who was found alone in a car parked alongside the road the morning before, exhibiting signs of date rape. Harold denies that he raped Chrissy. Mulder believes him, and believes Chrissy's condition is due to alien abduction rather than rape. Scully is skeptical because of the evidence and asks, "Harold, did you and Chrissy engage in consensual sexual intercourse that night?" Harold pauses, then replies "If her father finds out, I'm a dead man." Harold has more than Chrissy's father to worry about though because not long after he and Chrissy had consensual sex, they were abducted by aliens (or was it the government?) and subjected to numerous torturous tests, probes, and memory wipes. Although neither Harold nor Chrissy is killed following their sexual encounter, both characters were essentially raped: they were repeatedly physically violated against their will, to the point of loss of memory and a significant amount of their lives. Kids, this is what happens when you have sex on the first date in Chris Carter's world.

Inexplicit sex on what is basically a "first date" has more fatal results in "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose." A homicidal maniac with a soft-spot for fortunetellers is on the loose. He kills an amateur tasseographer, leaving her entrails and eyeballs on her living room table as evidence of the crime. Mulder brings Clyde Bruckman into the investigation because he believes Bruckman has the power to divine how people will die. At the scene of the crime, Bruckman has a vision of the killer and the tasseographer having sex on the floor. Following this encounter, the maniac killed the woman and disposed of her body (except for the aforementioned pieces). The killer does not have sex with all his victims, but still, for the tea leaf reader, sex with a man she just met leads to dire irrevocable consequences.

The correspondence between sex and death is more complexly and compassionately explored in the relationship between Bruckman and Scully. On Scully's watch over Bruckman in the hotel room, she asks him if he can see his own end. He replies:

I see our end. We end up in bed together... I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that, I don't mean to offend you or scare you, but, uh, not here, not this bed. I just mean I see us quite clearly in bed together. You're holding my hand, uh, very tenderly and then you're looking at me with such compassion, and I feel... tears are streaming down my face. I feel so grateful. It's just a very special moment neither of us will ever forget.

The implications of this statement--a man telling a woman that he sees her in bed with him--are clearly sexual. Scully balks at Bruckman's words precisely because of the implicit sexual connotations. She replies, "Mister Bruckman there are hits and there are misses. And then there are misses." However, this ending does come true, exactly as he says, but in an entirely unexpected way: Bruckman kills himself by taking pills and placing a plastic bag over his head; Scully finds him in bed, sits beside him, and grabs his hand, finding the pill bottle, while the condensation from the bag streams down his face; she is quite moved and upset with his death; it is a very special moment that she will never forget. And neither will Bruckman, because he cannot. He is dead. In this case, sex has been mistaken, replaced, by death. Like "2Shy," a situation that implies sex as its outcome in actuality has death as its outcome. Sex and death are intertwined in all of life, but the connection in The X-Files is more obvious and ominous.

Although many of the sex-induced horrors on the show revolve around initial impulsive encounters with strangers, husbands and wives are still at risk. Pregnancy, which generally presupposes sexual intercourse, carries with it its own horrible results. "Small Potatoes" depicts a number of couples who, due to infertility issues, seek medical help. All the couples visit the same doctor, and all happily get pregnant at about the same time. When the babies are born, however, they have tails. The mothers were not impregnated by their husbands as they thought, but by the medical clinic janitor, Eddie van Blundht, who has the ability to "make faces," to assume the appearance of anyone he desires. He uses this gift to impersonate the husbands and have sex with the wives (or rape them, since the sex is under false pretenses). Eddie, along with his abnormal ability to make faces, was born with a tail, so all the children he sires have similar excess appendages.

Unwanted fetal appendages arise again in "Terms of Endearment." Wayne Weinsider, who happens to be a demon, wants most of all to spawn a "normal" child. He marries, impregnates his wife, and hopes for the best. To Wayne's great distress, the sonogram shows the development of horns on the fetus. He drugs his wife with mandrake root before bed, rips the baby from her womb as she is sleeping, and buries it in the backyard. Mulder and Scully discover that Wayne has done this many times with many women, all in his overwhelming paternal hope of having an unhorned child. Wayne Weinsider and Eddie van Blundht invade the safest bastions of normal life--the comfort of home and marriage and procreative sex--and in doing so make clear that those bastions are not safe at all. Suddenly, your husband may not be your husband. He may be someone else, another person or another creature entirely. Your babies may have tails. Or horns. And in this case, sex literally is monstrous.

The X-Files is a world of extremes where society's fears and paranoia become literal, are incarnated in actual monsters, aliens, and government men who conspire to manipulate the public and deny them the truth. A world where you can "trust no one" because you never know who, or what, that person will be. Sex is a deliberate act of intimacy, and it involves a great deal of trust in order for the experience to be positive and valued. Because everyone is suspect in The X-Files world and no one can be trusted, a positive sexual encounter is almost entirely non-existent. In fact, the level of trust necessary in a sexual relationship makes it a definitive target for the show, because if that possibility of hope and intimacy existed, the world would not be so extreme and so scary, and without the extreme nature of the show, the fundamental structure would be compromised. Sex is monstrous because trust and intimacy are disallowed. And no one, not even Mulder and Scully, are immune to its effects.

[x]The Agents Get Involved

Mulder and Scully have both experienced the overwhelmingly negative effects of having sex in The X-Files world first hand, Mulder in "3" and Scully in "Never Again." "3" takes place during Scully's abduction in season 2, and has Mulder in Los Angeles investigating the Trinity murders. Three people who call themselves the Father, the Son, and the Unholy Spirit are draining their victims of blood through puncture wounds in major arteries and veins. Essentially, Mulder comes to realize, they are vampires. During the course of the investigation, Mulder discovers that the woman he originally suspects to be a member of the Trinity, Kristen Kilar, is actually one of their targets. When Mulder confronts Kristen in her apartment, she explains that the three want her because the Son, John, is her ex-boyfriend, and he will not let her go. Kristen is therefore in danger, but she refuses to go with Mulder, so he stays at her apartment to protect her. Kristen is a victim who has lost everything, and Mulder empathizes with this both because of his loss of his sister, Samantha, and more recently, his loss of Scully. He is almost as vulnerable as Kristen, and together the two make a volatile, needy pair. They have sex. In the morning, the vampires show up looking for Kristen, and Mulder attempts to save her. In the process of escaping both the fires that are burning nearby and the vampires in the house, Kristen separates herself from Mulder and doubles back. She pours gasoline throughout the house and sets it on fire, blows it up with her inside. She takes her own life (according to the rules that define the Trinity) in order to kill the vampires. Mulder is left to ponder the ashes. He could not protect her just like he could not protect Scully from being abducted. His one night stand led to death and destruction, both of the person Mulder had sex with, and the people he was attempting to bring to justice.

In "Never Again" Scully also finds herself on her own, but under different circumstances than Mulder did in "3." Mulder has been forced to take a vacation, and leaves Scully with some background checks in Philadelphia on Russian informants claiming to have pieces of downed UFOs. When Mulder assigns her the case, Scully confronts him about it, stating that the men involved are manipulating Mulder, and pointedly asks him for the first time in four years why she does not have a desk. Scully is reassessing her life, wondering about the choices she has made; she is struggling with herself, and revolting against the authority figure in her life. As Ed Jerse, the man she meets and goes out on a date with in Philadelphia, says, "Sounds a little like your time has come around again." At Ed's urging, she gets a tattoo on her back of a snake biting its tail from the same man that Ed himself got a tattoo from a few days before. As the man begins the process of tattooing Scully, Ed tells him, "She wants the same red. Like mine." Scully then goes home with Ed, and they have sex. In the morning, she, like Mulder, pays for this sexual encounter. The red ink that Ed and Scully have been tattooed with is made from rye grasses, and the grasses were infected with an ergot, which is a parasite that induces hallucinogenic ergotism, the symptoms for which Scully finds in the FBI databases: "Aural, visual hallucinations. Dangerous and unlikely behavior". Ed is suffering from the ergotism, his tattoo talks to him, makes him hate women, made him kill his downstairs neighbor. It tells him to attack Scully. He knocks her out and drags her down to the basement to burn her in the furnace like he burned his neighbor. Scully is able to escape this fate, she stabs Ed in the arm with a pair of scissors before he can toss her into the fire, and she regains control over the situation. But she has suffered considerable injuries from the encounter: the man she was intimate with is a murderer, and Scully has to be hospitalized both because of the wounds he inflicted on her and because she is infected with a parasite. She has paid the price for having sexual relations with a stranger.

[x]What We See vs. What We Know

In "3" and "Never Again" the sex is not explicit. We do not see the actual deed on the screen as we did in "Genderbender," no one admits to having the sex afterwards like in "Jose Chung's From Outer Space," and there is no irrefutable physical evidence, i.e. pregnancy, as in "Small Potatoes" to prove it. However, the audience knows that the agents had sex because the episodes employ typical television codes for sex to make definite what is only implied by the scenes themselves.

The sexual scenes in "3" between Mulder and Kristen begin after he confronts her in her apartment and she tells him about John, the Son. Mulder then decides to stay, to protect her, and Kristen tells him he needs to get cleaned up. The scene cuts to Mulder, shirtless in the bathroom attempting to shave, but there are no mirrors. "I don't like the way I look" Kristen explains. "That makes this hard," Mulder replies, apparently referring to the process of shaving. Kristen offers to help, grabs the razor, and props herself up on the sink. Mulder moves in between her legs. On the second swipe of his jaw, she nicks him, wipes the blood onto her finger and brings it to her mouth. Mulder stops her, tells her "It isn't who you are, it doesn't make you happy." Kristen then kisses Mulder, the kiss almost immediately rising in intensity as Mulder pushes Kristen down and out of the frame. There is a cut to John, watching from the window, then a commercial. The above scene began at 2:15am. When we return from commercial, it is near dawn, 5:47am. Time has passed. We see Kristen walking down the hallway, wearing different clothing--a tee shirt and pants as opposed to the robe from before. She walks into the kitchen and John accosts her. He tells her to kill Mulder and join the Trinity, and hands her a knife. Kristen returns to Mulder, who is asleep in a chair near the bed. It is especially noteworthy that Mulder is asleep, because earlier on in the episode, a detective tells Mulder to go back to his hotel and get some sleep. Mulder replies to the detective, "I didn't check into a hotel room. I don't sleep anymore." Kristen seems to have cured Mulder of his insomnia (Stegall par. 3). When she wakes Mulder and tells him he has to go, he leans down and puts on/ties his shoes. We have not seen Mulder and Kristen have sex, but the way in which the scene has been staged tells the audience that sex has occurred: the kiss which is pushed out of the frame and cut away from rather than stopped; the lapse in time when the scene is returned to; the woman in different clothing; the man asleep in the chair, who, when awoken by the woman, dresses himself in some way. These codes imply that the characters had sex, even though the sex was not explicitly shown.

In "Never Again" the sexual scenes between Scully and Ed begin at the tattoo parlor, where Scully is being marked by Svo, the tattoo artist. The tattooing is staged as a sexual act. The shots are intimate, lingering, and almost fetishistic starting with the close up of water being sprayed on Scully's back and a razor gliding over her skin. We see a close up of the red ink, the needle, Svo's hands snapping on prophylactic latex gloves. These shots are interspersed with close ups of Scully and then Ed, who are facing each other, looking at each other. The music is evocative, it has a thrumming ache to it, and sets up a rhythm between Ed and Scully, Scully and the needle, the needle buzzing dipped into red ink, then marking Scully's back. Scully gasps at this first contact, arching up to the needle. She makes eye contact with Ed, a mixture of pain and pleasure on her face. Ed is obviously moved, he is close to tears. Strong emotion is expressed between the two as they watch each other. Svo dabs Scully's blood as it wells up from the needle point.Afterwards, when they return to Ed's apartment, the music carries over from the previous scene, as does the dark lighting and cuts between Scully, Ed, Scully's back, and Ed's arm. The mood and the intimacy is the same as in the tattoo parlor. Scully notices Ed's arm is bleeding from his tattoo, so she takes his jacket and shirt off of him to look at it and notes that it is burned. As she turns his arm, he grabs her and holds her tightly. They are close, getting closer. The tension is high and they are about to kiss. The camera spirals around to an angle that makes their faces indiscernible as it pulls away, out of the apartment, the door closing as the camera exits. Cut to commercial. When we return, it is morning. Ed wakes up on the couch,2 writes a note, and leaves. Scully wakes up in Ed's bed with Ed's shirt on, and is rumpled; her hair and clothes are mussed. The characters had a sexual encounter, and the episode codes for the sex in ways similar to "3": the intensely charged physical contact, complete with blood; the cut away from the characters during this contact without the contact ending; the commercial break, followed by a time lapse to the morning. In the morning the sexual act is reestablished. In this case, the woman is wearing the man's clothes, which, in television, strongly implies that they had sex. Agent Scully had sex with Ed Jerse just as Agent Mulder had sex with Kristen Kilar, and the viewers know this because the codes act as a language between television and audience that conveys a message without having to directly state that message. We do not have to see what happened to know what happened.

[x]Moving Towards Metaphor

"3" and "Never Again" establish sexual precedent in both Mulder and Scully's lives, a history of sex and sexual signs for the main characters which are subsequently available for the show to revisit and reinterpret. Such revisitation and reinterpretation takes place in "Bad Blood." The agents have sex again in this episode, though in a not-so-obvious and not-so-literal way that relies heavily on, and toys playfully with, the codes employed in "3" and "Never Again." "Bad Blood" is an episode that brings multiple readings of the text to the foreground, and this manner of storytelling is what allows the not-so-literal sex to occur. Mulder and Scully both tell "their side" of the story, detailing the escapades of a renegade vampire in a small Texas town. By highlighting both agents' versions of the events, the episode humorously explores the idea of divergent realities--the various ways that a single event can transpire differently depending on the person's perspective.

The viewer's attention is unavoidably drawn to the notion of divergent realities by the fact that the story is told twice in its entirety, first by Scully, then by Mulder. Furthermore, one agent's version of the events does not corroborate the other's version when the stories are meshed together: in Scully's telling of the events, when she shoots Ronnie Strickland in her motel room she misses him entirely, whereas in Mulder's version, she hits him twice, "square in the chest, no effect;" Mulder claims Sheriff Hartwell has big buckteeth and we see the protruding teeth when he smiles, but Scully disagrees, and in her telling the Sheriff has average-size teeth; the conversation over the body of Mr. Funt in the funeral home revolves around the origins of vampire myths in both agents' stories, but in Scully's version, its nuances embrace actual medical conditions that could account for the myths, while Mulder's version focuses on the longevity, ubiquity, and variety of myths themselves. In all the aforementioned disparities and the many others throughout the episode, the viewer is shown both sides, and each side is weighted equally. The viewer is free to believe one or the other version, or to believe them both. The episode refuses to resolve the disparities, because the disparities themselves are legitimate. Agent Mulder and Agent Scully believe their versions. We believe both agents. We can therefore believe both stories, and therefore both versions are true.

Disparity between Mulder's experience and Scully's experience on an X-File case is nothing unheard of. It is, in fact, the source of the tension that drives the show. If Mulder sees a large object floating in the sky and proclaims it a UFO, Scully, standing beside him, will undoubtedly find another explanation. "Bad Blood" is different from all the other episodes because it takes the usual discrepancies between the agents and stages them in a he said/she format. In doing so, the traditionally neutral, reserved, and linear X-Files viewpoint fragments into Mulder vs. Scully, where the agents roll their eyes at each other, slap guts on a scale, make fun of the local sheriff's teeth, and generally exaggerate all their personality quirks in a hilarious parody of their staunchly serious selves.

With "Bad Blood"'s whimsical focus on storytelling, divergent points of view, and differing interpretation of events, and its self-aware and self-referential nature, it is practically begging us to step back from the confines of the episode and analyze the perspective of the director, Cliff Bole, who is the ultimate source of the storytelling, point of view, and interpretation. The director is not a character in the story, and therefore does not "tell" his side like Mulder and Scully do. But a director does have a side, and the language used to convey this side is comprised of shot choices, camera angles, lighting, color, repetition of motifs, recognized codes, etc. For example:

  • Lighting: In the episode "Triangle" Mulder is caught in a time warp, he is stuck on a boat in the 1930s. As he is about to jump ship and is telling the 1930's version of Scully what is happening, he is shot in shadow and Scully in light. The lighting establishes Scully as part of the 1930s world and Mulder as separate from it. He is a shadow in this world and therefore does not belong.
  • Color: "3" is overwhelmed with red, from the opening shot of the fires and glass of red wine spilling on a white shirt, to the planes dropping red dust from the sky, to the red light Mulder shines on John when interrogating him, to the blood on Mulder's neck when Kristen cuts him. The episode focuses on blood fetishist, vampires. The color scheme makes us see, or a least feel, blood constantly. It also augments the "unnatural" aspect of this world that the vampires inhabit. A world that is skewed to red.
  • Codes: As discussed above in reference to "3" and "Never Again, " directors have a variety of codes at their disposal which are used to key the audience in on an event that has taken place without showing the audience the event directly. The aforementioned episodes use specific, established codes to tell the audience that the characters had sex even though sex was not shown on the screen.

A director's "side" is almost always in agreement with the story and the characters. It is used to create mis-en-scène, ambiance, and/or to anchor the story and give it more emotional resonance and coherence. For The X-Files then, the director's "side" is merely the traditional X-Files viewpoint. However, in "Bad Blood" the linear perspective has been fragmented, so there is not just one story or one side--the cohesiveness has been deliberately discarded. Bole is therefore as free to have his own version of the events as the characters are, and he takes advantage of this freedom, like Mulder and Scully, to tell his own separate side of the story, which involves the agents having sex. He does this by manipulating the codes first presented in "3" and "Never Again".

As already noted, when a woman has been on a date and is shown the next morning appearing disheveled and wearing an article of her date's clothing, this signals to the viewer that she has had sex. Scully wakes up following her encounter with Ed Jerse in "Never Again" and is wearing Ed's shirt and is rumpled, so we know they did the deed. In "Bad Blood" Scully suffers from the same exact codes. After a night spent with the Sheriff in his vehicle, we see Scully the next morning, hair mussed and wearing the Sheriff's coat. She and the sheriff had "sex" according to both the general television codes for sex as well as Scully's specific sexual history within the show itself. A man sprawled sleeping and in some state of undress after being seduced is another method for coding for sex-- after Mulder has sex with Kristen in "3" he is shown asleep in a chair. When she wakes him and tells him he has to go, he gets up and puts on/ties his shoes. At the end of "Bad Blood," we see Mulder sprawled in the car asleep. When we last saw him the night before, he was being swallowed up in a crowd of vampires. Scully finds him in the car and wakes him up. He checks his neck for bites, gets out of the car and checks Scully's neck for (love)-bites, and then ties his shoes. So Mulder is also dealing with the metaphorical morning after. According to the sexual coding established both by general television subtext and by his specific sexual past in The X-Files, he has had sex with the entire trailer park community. From Bole's viewpoint, Mulder and Scully wake up from a drugged (albeit forcibly) night of debauchery unsure of what exactly happened, and find their respective one night stands missing, gone without a trace. Not even a phone number left behind.

In the director's reality, which is not Mulder's or Scully's, Mulder and Scully had sex, although not with each other. Because the viewpoints have been intentionally forked, the sex did not literally occur within the bounds of the show. It only happened metaphorically. In this way, from this episode, the sexual signs are separated from their physical manifestations. All episodes that follow "Bad Blood" are now free to plunder this separation and delve into the metaphorical possibilities in depth, possibilities that include the heretofore uncharted area of Mulder and Scully having sex with each other.

[x]Sowing Seeds and Melding Coins

"Dreamland I" and "Dreamland II" explore the possibilities of metaphorical sex between the agents by positing a reality where Mulder and Scully are no longer partners and cannot be together. In these episodes, Mulder unwittingly swaps bodies with a man in black, Morris Fletcher. The swap take place on a highway bordering Area 51, where Fletcher and other military personnel have halted Mulder and Scully alongside the road. While they are being questioned, a "UFO" flown by the military crashes nearby, causing a warp in the space-time continuum. The warp allows two different objects to exist in the same spot at the same time--a lizard and rock are fused together, a man becomes part of the floor--and also, as it passes through Mulder and Fletcher, Mulder to become Fletcher and Fletcher to become Mulder. Due to lost time, Mulder and Fletcher are the only ones at the scene who remember the crash, and the only ones who know they have swapped bodies.

With this set up, the episodes follow a story line where Mulder appears as and must act like Morris Fletcher, husband to Joanne Fletcher, father of Chris and Terry Fletcher. Mulder fails miserably at his new role. Joanne is constantly upset by his distance and actions; he makes his daughter Chris cry, whine, or gripe every time he speaks to her; and his son meets him with sheer indifference. Joanne, thinking he is having an affair with Scully because he mentions her name in his sleep, kicks Mulder out of the house and asks for a divorce. Clearly, Mulder does not fit into a normal family setting--his mere presence sets everything into disarray. (Ho, "Re: Sunflower") When Mulder tries to explain to Joanne who Scully is and that he is not having an affair with her, he says, "She's my partner, Joanne." And Joanne replies, "I'm supposed to be your partner." This definition confusion, which Mulder tries to resolve by convincing Joanne he is not her husband, is essential to the underlying theme the episodes present. Scully is Mulder's partner by both Mulder and Joanne's definition, and he cannot function properly in a world where this is not the case.

Scully is in a similar situation. Her partner is now Morris Fletcher. Fletcher sees the switch as an opportunity to escape his old life, to start fresh in a newly assumed by-the-book FBI agent body and identity that radically conflicts with the Mulder that Scully knows. Bereft of her partner, Scully does not fare any better than Mulder. She is harshly reprimanded by Assistant Director Kersh for traveling to Nevada, suspended without pay, and ultimately forced out of the bureau for returning to Area 51 in an attempt to set things right with Mulder/Fletcher. At the beginning of the episode, Scully pines for a "normal life." She asks Mulder, "Don't you ever just want to stop? Get out of the damn car? Settle down and live something approaching a normal life?" But Mulder cannot take part in that normal life without Scully. And Scully's life is not normal without Mulder in it. (Ho, "Re: Sunflower")

We see Mulder and Scully malfunctioning without each other throughout the episodes. No direct sexual connotations are attributed to the malfunctioning because Mulder and Scully are not "partners" in the sexual sense in their literal world. However, symbolically the episodes do suggest that Mulder and Scully have had sex, that they are partners in all senses of the word. The first symbol that suggests this is sunflower seeds. When Scully gives Mulder the news that there is not a way to switch Mulder and Fletcher back due to the overwhelming probability of something going wrong in the process, Mulder and Scully must say goodbye to each other. They are both resolved to the fact that Mulder is stuck in Fletcher's body, and they will never be partners or see each other again. Scully tells Mulder (who appears to her as Fletcher), "If you weren't so ugly, I'd kiss you." Then as she turns to leave, Mulder stops her and drops some of his sunflower seeds in her palm. He then takes a few of the seeds she is holding, pops them into his mouth, and walks away. Mulder is always sucking on sunflower seeds. He hands the seeds to Scully--things he puts in his mouth (accentuated by him putting one in his mouth)--for her to put in her mouth. Mouth to mouth. This acts a kiss. (Williams) Also, they are seeds, his seed, which he only shares with Scully. Mulder handing Scully his seed[s] is a sexual act in metaphor.

The sexual connotations of Mulder giving Scully his seed are further evidenced in the other symbol of their consummation, the fused penny-dime which Scully finds at the burned down/blown up gas station, and again in her desk after the time warp has snapped back returning Mulder to Mulder and Fletcher to Fletcher, leaving everyone none the wiser because time itself has snapped back. The fused penny/dime is, on the literal level, physical proof for the viewer that all the events of "Dreamland" transpired, though neither Mulder nor Scully recall the events. But it also symbolizes the metaphoric fusion of Mulder and Scully, the sexual union that they had in the episode. Originally, the penny and dime were Mulder's change from purchasing the sunflower seeds at the gas station. The seeds cost $1.89, so he got eleven cents back. The coins are therefore the remainder of Mulder's seeds (his change from the purchase), which were melded together by the time warp and are now in Scully's possession, like the sunflower seeds themselves that he handed to her. One of the coins is red (copper), distinct from the silver. The red coin is Scully, with its reference to her red hair. The silver is Mulder. They are fused together during the warped events of the episode, and remain that way even after life has been returned to normal in the end. Two become one. The coin, as well as Mulder giving Scully his seed, symbolize Scully and Mulder's sexual union in the episode. Sex between the two agents did not occur literally, but it did metaphorically through gesture and object.

[x]Through the Years We'll Always Be Together: "A Murder-Suicide is All About Trust"

Gesture and object also play a metaphorical role in "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas." In the episode, Mulder investigates a haunted house on Christmas Eve, and cons Scully into coming along. The house is haunted by Maurice and Lyda, a couple who killed themselves in a lovers' pact on Christmas Eve 1917, and attempt each year to force their fate onto the current living residents of the house. They have often accomplished this goal, as Mulder recounts to Scully, "Every couple that's ever lived here has met a tragic end. Three double murders in the last 80 years. All on Christmas Eve." The house is condemned now though, so Maurice and Lyda have to be content playing their tricks on the curiosity seekers that are drawn to the ghost story, with the Special Agents being the most recent seekers.

To begin their trickery, the ghosts separate Scully and Mulder as soon as they enter the house. The partners cannot get back to one another because all the doorways they encounter are brick walls; ladders to the second level of the rooms they occupy appear and disappear at will. The rooms are a literal rendering of the Freudian state of affairs between them: Mulder and Scully must have barriers keeping them apart to live in their world ("walls" constructed in the mind to hold one another at a distance), but they trust only each other, and so are constantly in a dance of giving to the other person but then withdrawing in fear of what may result (ladders offered that, once scaled or descended, are taken away). (Ho, Personal Interview) While in these Freudian rooms, both agents have personal encounters with Maurice and Lyda. Scully is panicked in her encounters, but Mulder converses with the ghosts and is subjected to their psychoanalysis of him. Lyda, like Joanne in "Dreamland," assumes Mulder and Scully are lovers. Mulder, also like in "Dreamland," asserts, "We're not lovers." Lyda is unfazed and unconvinced. She tells Mulder, "but you're both so attractive and there will be a lot of time to work that out... A murder-suicide is all about trust." When Mulder asks, "I thought you had a lovers' pact," Lyda responds, "Poetic illusions aside, the outcome, Mulder, is pretty much the same." In this exchange, Lyda replaces "lovers' pact" with "murder-suicide." As in the aforementioned episodes "2Shy" and "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose," sex is replaced with death. The ghosts lure others into reenacting their murder-suicide in an attempt to recapture their youth, recapture their connection to one another--to have sex, or at least what represents sex in their world.

After chatting with and confusing the agents, Lyda and Maurice trick Mulder into believing Scully has shot him, and Scully into believing Mulder has shot her, in an attempt to make them kill one other. For some amount of time, as they both lie bleeding on the floor, Mulder and Scully believe the trick, and they believe they are going to die. Scully gasps, "Ah... I'm not going to make it," and Mulder replies, "No, you're not. Not without me, you're not." They both admit they are afraid, and then both admit they did not shoot the other. Mulder then realizes it is a ruse, that they are not physically wounded, and he and Scully flee the house. They are able to escape the murder-suicide fate because, as Mulder states, they are not lovers in the literal world, and so unlike the couples who previously occupied the house, they are not subject to death. Mulder and Scully are safe because they have not had literal sex. However, they did have some semblance of sex because they had some semblance of death, even if it was a trick, and so the partners are safe despite the fact that they had metaphorical sex.

The episode's end reinforces the agents' safety. After escaping the house, the scene cuts to Mulder at home, watching A Christmas Carol on television. Scully knocks on his door, and he invites her in. They discuss the events of the past night, and then exchange wrapped gifts. Gesture and object now come into play as they did in "Dreamland II:" Mulder gives Scully a long cylindrical present shaped like a paper towel tube, and Scully gives Mulder a box about the size of a book. Keeping in mind the other Freudian symbols in the episode, the specific shape of the gifts--Mulder's present to Scully being very phallic, Scully's present to Mulder a "box," which is slang for female genitalia--the characters are giving each other their sexual organs and so are symbolically having sex. (Ho, Personal Interview) The camera cuts away before we see the presents unwrapped, which allows the presents to remain mysterious, open to interpretation, and one of those interpretations is metaphorical and sexual.

[x]A Glimpse Into That Other World: Somewhere Over the Rainbow

The only X-Files episodes to date in which a couple has sex with no repercussions, where they are happy and nothing but, is "Rain King." Sheila Fontaine and Holman Hardt find true love and true happiness in Kroner, Texas, complete with perfect weather, a baby, and a rainbow in their backyard. The X-Files world is one of extreme dark, but Sheila and Holman's world is one of extreme light. It is the antithesis of the literal X-Files terrain, and so therefore it is the metaphorical terrain. Death does not visit the couple because they have transcended the literal boundaries of the show. They have entered the metaphorical world where, like Mulder and Scully, they are free to have sex, to love and trust one another, without an inevitable violent end.

Sheila and Holman survive and thrive in blissful communion because they are foils for Mulder and Scully, and acting as such, offer a representation of the hidden aspects of the agents' lives. Like Mulder and Scully, Sheila and Holman are long time coworkers. At the beginning of the episode they are both alone and unhappy in a town that is suffering from drought. The Special Agents come to Kroner to investigate strange weather occurrences, and Mulder soon deduces that the weather is being made, or controlled, by Holman Hardt. It reflects Holman's pent up emotional state because he has suffered a lifetime of unrequited love for Sheila. The solution seems obvious to Mulder--he convinces Holman to declare his love to Sheila. When Holman first tells Sheila he loves her, she misinterprets and dismisses him. Similarly, in "Triangle," Mulder tells Scully he loves her and she rolls her eyes and attributes it to painkillers. Holman, unlike Mulder, is more persistent, he tells Sheila that he is "in love" with her. At first Sheila runs away from Holman, claiming that they are just friends and she has never thought of him in any other way. Scully follows her, and tells her:

...it seems to me that the best relationships, the ones that last, are frequently the ones that are rooted in friendship. You know, one day you look at the person and you see something more than you did the night before. Like a switch has been flicked somewhere. And the person who was just a friend is suddenly the only person you can ever imagine yourself with.

The statement offers rare insight into Scully's personal beliefs, and reflects her own internal experience which she shares with Sheila because she recognizes the similarities between them. Following the talk with Scully, Sheila accepts Holman, and they are transported to happily ever after. Holman tells Mulder, "You should try it sometime," and Mulder does, though not literally. The happily ever after is a fleeting glimpse into that other world that The X-Files prohibits the agents from having within its literal boundaries. It represents Mulder and Scully's metaphorical world, a world in which the agents have sex, and a world in which the audience can freely imagine and interpret such an encounter according to their own personal life experiences.

[x]Squaring the Circle

The relationship between Mulder and Scully is similar to the relationship between the show and the audience--the union becomes manifest in the metaphorical realm due to disconnection in the literal realm (the supernatural premise) and unresolved tension (plots). The boundaries and signification of sex in The X-Files preclude Mulder and Scully's relationship from becoming sexual on the literal level because sex is harmful on the show, it has an established history linking it to death and horror. If Mulder and Scully were to have sex, it would have to result in unpleasantries such as violent death, alien abduction, devil children, etc., according to this established history. Depicting the sex as honest, good, and trusting, as the relationship between the two suggest it would be, would severely upset the fundamental formula and structure of the show by allowing intimacy and trust to manifest themselves in the world. The world would therefore be safer, the monsters defanged. Also, sex between the characters would result in a distinct resolution of tension. Once it transpired, it could not be taken back, nor could it be open to interpretation. The agents having sex with one another would therefore not only disrupt the established rules of sex in The X-Files, but also the way the viewers themselves relate to Mulder and Scully's relationship. Literal sexual consummation between the agents would give viewers the immediate satisfaction of a long held desire to see the characters do the deed. But with this act comes a specific and irrevocable resolution by which the viewers must necessarily lose their own interpretations of the act, and by extension, how they translate it to their lives and make it their own. The audience would have a fixed idea of how, when, and where Mulder and Scully had sex for the first time, and it would not be their version of the event. Literal sex between the characters is therefore counter to both its relationship with the show and its relationship with the viewer. Metaphorical sex, however, is not. Like the relationship of the show to the viewer, the metaphor is where the deepest connection is made; it is, in fact, where the definition of the connection between the two is made. So it makes sense that Mulder and Scully's most intimate relationship would occur on this level. Which it does: the seed given by Mulder and received by Scully; the penny and dime fused; the Christmas gifts exchanged; the agents' shared life somewhere over the rainbow. Although in the literal X-Files world the agents may be the most sexually deprived characters on television, in the metaphorical realm for Mulder and Scully, sex abounds.

[x]Works Cited

Ho, JD. Personal Interview. 15 Jan. 1999.

-----. "Re: Sunflower." Personal E-mail. 7 Dec. 1998.

Sobchack, Vivian. "Science Fiction." Handbook of American Film Genres edited by Wes D. Gehring, 229-247. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated, June 1988.

Stegall, Sarah. "Curing Mulder's Insomnia." Sarah Stegall's X-Files Review Page. 1994. 8 pars. 15 Oct. 1999 <http://www.munchkyn.com/xf-rvws/3.html>.

Williams, Aaron Z. Personal Interview. 25 Sept. 1999.


1 Which is not to say that viewers are not entertained by such exaggerations, just that it is more difficult to relate the exaggerated drama to their lives. The most successful method employed by television shows to deal with a need for heightened drama that audiences can still believe in as "real" is staging television shows in an area where these exceptional levels of drama can legitimately be sustained, i.e. a hospital, a courtroom, police precinct, or the FBI. Although the setting does create a plausible outlet for attention-grabbing drama, when based solely in "natural" reality, as opposed to supernatural, it does not provide the metaphor for the viewers to associate with their lives.

2 Ed waking up on the couch muddles the codes somewhat, makes it possible to argue that he and Scully did not have sex. However, the rest of the codes, along with the rest of the episode, imply a sexual encounter. The muddle can therefore be dismissed as hedging on the part of 1013 productions for fear of audience backlash at Scully having sex with someone other than Mulder. Also, the basic components of the scene are quite similar to "3," and in "3" Mulder wakes up in a chair, not the bed, following the commercial break. It is still quite clear in "3" that the characters had sex despite the fact that Mulder is in the chair.