Monday, July 20, 2015

When Stories and Characters Develop Minds of Their Own: Of Mulder/Scully and Chris Carter [Contributor: Lizzie]

Everyone who calls themselves a writer dreams of one day getting one of those characters. You know what I’m talking about: the characters who write themselves, the stories that seem to develop without your input, and sometimes, even without your consent. As a writer, you create these characters -- these individuals, and then you turn around... and it’s like your kids grew up when you were busy with something else, and now they’re eighteen and running off with a motorcycle-riding boyfriend that you don’t approve of.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present you exhibit number one: Fox Mulder and Dana Scully
Once upon a time (because that’s how every great story starts) Chris Carter had an idea. It was a revolutionary idea at the time, and he spent a lot of time developing it. He put a lot of himself into both Mulder and Scully -- his main characters. Carter created a strong woman who relied on science. He created a strong man who wanted to believe. And then he brought them together. And by "together," I mean he put them in the same space and time. He didn’t really mean for them to be together, together.

What Chris Carter really, truly wanted was to write about conspiracies. He was interested in the big picture, in the special effects, in the monsters-of-the-week. He wanted to write the weird stuff, the legends, the paranormal -- the things everyone had said again and again wouldn’t work on TV. He wanted an overarching mythology tying it all together. Mulder and Scully were his babies, yes, but in a way, they were just means to an end. He certainly wasn’t thinking about the romance.

The story has changed with the years, but the clues are everywhere. You might even say they’re unmistakable. "Chris Carter played the long-game with the Mulder/Scully romance," is the version they tell these days. And, who knows. That might be somewhat true. Or that might just be what Chris Carter wants to tell himself now that the romance is canon: people love it, and he’s basically got no other choice but to smile and say that, yes, he planned it that way all along.

Mulder and Scully have always loved each other, were always meant to be together; theirs just wasn’t a sexual kind of love, Carter’s said. (Which, if you think about it, really, really hard… no, no wait… it still doesn’t make sense). Currently, Chris Carter is saying that they are soul mates, but life has different kinds of soul mates. Soul mates, he is seemingly insinuating, don’t mean you’re going to be together forever and have babies; that’s just the mainstream ideal. Soul mates means something deeper, something ethereal, something that we can’t define. And we nod, and smile. Because he created these characters and he should know them better than us, shouldn’t he?

At this point, I’m starting to think the answer to that is no.

I was with The X-Files from the beginning. I was a little kid, sure, but I saw these characters grow from acquaintances to friends. I saw Mulder and Scully prove things to each other, time and time again. I saw them develop that trust, become partners. I was part of the journey, even if they couldn’t see me. I was the person they were selling this story to. And once they were partners, when you thought two people could not possibly get any closer without jumping in bed with one another, I saw Mulder and Scully move beyond even that. I saw them become family.

"Best friends" was always a label that somehow didn’t seem to encompass all that Mulder and Scully were to each other, and yet, for many years, it was the best phrase we could use to describe them. Sheila Larken, who plays Margaret Scully, once said “they’re [Mulder and Scully] best friends beyond what lovers could ever be.” And thoug that doesn’t really explain the depth of their relationship either, at least it goes beyond the bare facts, tries to explain that the relationship is an exception to a rule.

David Duchovny went even further, when he summed up the Mulder/Scully relationship this way: “It’s like the one friend, I guess, that he has in the world. I mean I heard a phrase once; somebody was talking about their wife. This was a person who was very inept socially, not the wife but the man. There were many things said about him that weren’t kind, and he said: 'My wife, who is lovely and social and everything like that, is my human credential.' And that makes him a human being, because people think, well if she can stand him, he must have some humanity within him. Sometimes I think about Scully as Mulder’s human credential. It’s the only thing that makes him not crazy, in many ways.”

Both quotes are right, and yet, in a way, neither one comes close to explaining all that Mulder and Scully were to each other. Not that my words will be any better. If you want to know what Mulder and Scully were all about, you have to watch the show, just like I did.

You see, this is not a second-hand story someone told me, not the legend of Mulder and Scully that was told through Tumblr posts or Facebook statuses. I was a front row witness to their journey from "You’re the only one I trust" to "I can’t live without you." It was slow, but it happened. And it didn’t happen in spite of their creator. I think Chris Carter meant it to happen.

... Okay, you're sitting there bewildered at your screen. You’re contradicting yourself, Lizzie. That is NOT what you said earlier. You said he was clueless. You said he didn’t know. Tell us... which one is it?

Bear with me and I’ll explain.

Chris Carter meant to create these wonderful characters. He was trying to meld them into partners. He wanted them to become close and depend on each other. I just think he didn’t see the romantic nature of what he was doing until it hit him right in the face. And, no, I’m actually not joking around here. So how can you create one of the most iconic romances in television without meaning to? you wonder. How can you have two people who defined the term UST (unsolved sexual tension) and not have it all be part of a grand plan?

Easy. With two very, very good actors who are excellent at seeing beyond the obvious, and a rabid fanbase who was just discovering the power of the Internet.

Welcome to Chris Carter’s personal hell.

One season in, The X-Files the questions were all about the conspiracy. Who was the Cigarette-Smoking Man? Who was Deep Throat? Were they really among us? Four years later, the questions were all about the characters: Were Mulder and Scully in love? Was Scully’s cancer incurable? Would Scully ever get to have a child? I’m not saying these were questions the writing team behind The X-Files was afraid of. I’m not even saying that they didn’t focus on these two wonderful characters, sometimes in detriment of the plot. All I’m saying is that they did not mean for the characters to overshadow the mythology. They did not mean for this to become the Mulder and Scully Show. And the certainly didn’t intend to create the gold standard for will-they-won’t-they couples.

Because for them, there was no real question. The answer was obvious: yes, Mulder and Scully loved each other. They loved each other as siblings, and they loved each other as spouses. They took care of one another. They were always there for each other, in good times or bad times. And that was much more important than whether they were actually having sex or not.

Okay, I hesitate to call them naïve, but boy, were they naïve.

Television is much easier to understand these days. Maybe it’s because actors, writers and producers get the chance to interact with fans more often on a deeper level. Perhaps it’s because of things like focus groups and test audiences. Shows today have so much more information than they did twenty years ago. Lead actors routinely go through chemistry tests before they get to actually film. They don’t often meet up randomly in the waiting room and just so happen to practice lines with each other and then, surprisingly get the roles.

Point is, in this day and age, show runners don’t have to guess what people want. They know. In fact, they so thoroughly know that, sometimes, they even delight in not giving fans what they know they want (at least not right away).

That was not what Chris Carter was doing, though (ignoring what fans wanted). At least, not at first. No, Chris Carter was just telling a story. A story about aliens, a big conspiracy, and the men behind it. An epic story. A story other shows would seek to emulate. Sometimes I see Chris Cater's interviews and can almost feel his frustration at the fact that even though he managed to create an iconic show... it really isn’t the plot we’re still talking about today, so much as the characters. I always remember this quote, and if you’re a die-hard X-Files fan like me, you probably remember it.

"Scully loves Mulder, and Mulder loves Scully. It's a wonderful romance. It's just not a sexual romance. It's not a physical romance. It is a caring, tender, respectful relationship. It's an ideal, and I would never want to do anything to threaten it, to change it."

That, from the mouth of their creator. I remember going through the five stages of grief after reading this. I’m serious; I actually went through the stages. Because this was Chris Carter acknowledging something, and yet, at the same time, not acknowledging it. This was him saying, yes, I see it, there’s love, but the rest is not there… the rest (that physical romance) is just your imagination.

(Spoiler alert: It wasn’t.)

This particular quote is probably the reason I sat down to write this article. At the time when Chris Carter said this, I was still young enough to put stock in his words. I’ve learned my lesson, of course. Never trust a show runner. They change their minds (Or, sometimes, like in this case, they have their minds changed for them). This is an important lesson, and it holds true for every fandom. But it especially holds true when it comes to Chris Carter, and I feel like I need to repeat it over and over again until it sinks in.

Never trust Chris Carter.


In fact, let’s make that the tagline for the new episodes.

Mulder and Scully are what they are primarily because of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. From the beginning, David and Gillian were the ambassadors of MSR (Mulder/Scully romance). Back in the day, that was actually a pretty unusual thing. I don’t want to turn this into a fandom history lesson, but The X-Files was really the first big fandom to exist online at the same time as the product it derived from. Of course, that has a lot to do with timing. The X-Files was at its most popular just when the Internet was becoming something other than a cool thing you could use in the school computer lab. And, boy, were the fans loud. I would know. I was one of them.

And Chris Carter didn’t like it. Or he did. He loved it. He just didn’t love the reasoning. If nothing else, he wanted his audience to pay the same degree of passion and attention to the Mulder/Scully relationship as to the conspiracy. But love makes the world go 'round, and all that. Chris Carter was never actually going to get his way.

It’s funny how I keep thinking about all of this now that we’re so close to getting new episodes on FOX. You’re bitter, my friends say. You’ve been holding a grudge for ages. And, in a way, they’re right. I’m bitter. I’m scared. I don’t believe Chris Carter truly understands what he created, and because of that, I don’t trust him to treat these two characters with the respect they deserve.

There’s a beautiful quote from a sixth season episode called "The Rain King," that pretty much explains all these two characters are, and all that Chris Carter ended up creating:

"Well, 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."

If you ask me, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson flipped that switch long before Chris Carter wanted them to. They might have even flipped that switch without even recognizing what they were doing. They were these people, and when the natural progression of things felt right – they did them. And maybe after that, their creator, and the writing team in general, looked around and said: "Well, yes. Okay. That really does make sense. Let’s go for that. Let’s just do it our way."

And do it their way is precisely what they did, through nine seasons and two movies. They’ll probably continue to do it their way through the six episodes we’ll be getting next year. What "their way" means is anyone’s guess at this point. It probably means less of the explicit romance and more of the deep connection. But that’s okay. You want to know why? Because at this point, they can’t take it back. They can’t deny it. And, even if they make it hard for us, in truth, they’re not really trying. They’ve surrendered to the truth. Millions of fans and two actors saw way before they did.

Mulder/Scully is the OTP to end all OTPs. The one that started it all.

I have to end with this quote from Frank Spotniz, because if anything sums up what The X-Files ended up being, is these words: “You can’t get the truth. You can’t. There’s a larger truth, though: that you can’t harness the forces of the cosmos, but you may find somebody else. You may find another human being. That may be kind of corny and all of that, but that’s what it is: Love is the only truth we can hope to know, as human beings. That’s what Mulder and Scully found after nine years. And that’s a lot.”

Cheers to that!


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