What's Going on with Dana Scully's Obsessive Mother-Guilt in The X-Files Revival?

Is Dana Scully, one of the best written characters on television regardless of gender, getting pigeonholed into this pit of guilt and loss without redemption?
Publish date:
February 17, 2016
motherhood, television, the x-files, Dana Scully

The X-Files has been consuming my Monday nights for the past few weeks. My love for Dana Scully is well known around these parts, as I have written about how she inspired me as a kid on xoJane before. As an adult watching The X-Files revival, Dana Scully still motivates me to look at life (and television programs) with a feminist lens. I would like to examine one particular issue in the recent incarnation of The X-Files more closely here: Scully as a mother.

Scully delivered her and Mulder's son, William, in Season 8 of The X-Files. William is related to the original human-alien hybrid program that was established in earlier seasons. In order to keep their child safe from those who would want to harm him, Scully gave William up for adoption.

Motherhood and reproduction have been at the center of the feminist dialogue about feminism and women's rights from the very beginning. Generalizing on the feelings of birth parents who gave their children up for adoption is problematic. However, by watching the newest episodes of The X-Files, we can see a huge difference in how Scully and Mulder view parenthood.

In the episode "Founder's Mutation," Scully has numerous dreams and nightmares about William. Scully dreams of taking William to his first day of school, doting on him after he breaks his arm, and rushing to his aid after he transforms into a nightmarish human-alien hybrid (these fears are well founded, as this season, we find out that Scully's genome has alien DNA).

Notably, Scully's dreams are all of being a traditional caregiver in one way or another: education, health care, and comforting your child after a traumatic event are all on the societal "good mom" checklist. It is implied that Scully thinks about William a lot, especially after she receives a phone call from her brother who has the same name.

After the death of her mother in "Home Again," Scully feels massive amounts of guilt about giving William up for adoption. Scully verbalizes wanting to know that she did not give her son away "like trash," while clutching her mother's urn. Mulder, sitting by Scully's side, can only offer her a small comfort.

Meanwhile, Mulder's dreams about William consist of doing fun activities: watching 2001: A Space Odyssey, throwing a baseball around, and ending with William being abducted from his bedroom, much like Mulder's sister was. The dreadful conclusion of Mulder's dreams about William is one of him being taken away, making Mulder not liable for William's continued care. This is in contrast to Scully's dreams of caregiving (with little to no fun), and Scully's nightmare.

In Scully's nightmare, William remains with her, horrified at the face looking back at him in the mirror, horrified at his transformation, leaving his mother to pick up the pieces. Although Mulder is feeling guilt and remorse about William's adoption, it is nowhere at the level of Scully's internalized culpability. In reality, one can argue that Mulder feels more guilt about the futility of chasing after monsters. In "Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster" (my favorite episode this season, although it does contain a totally unnecessary transphobic joke) it is the belief that his life has been wasted on his work that haunts Mulder, not the specter of his son. This is laid out from the first episode of the season ("My Struggle") onward. When Scully asks Mulder if he ever thinks of William, Mulder replies:

"Of course I do. But I feel like I've had to put that behind me."

Motherhood comes up again in the most recent episode, "Babylon." "Babylon" is written by Chris Carter (who I personally believe is the weakest writer of the entire series). "Babylon" can be easily criticized for going down a tired route of depicting Muslims as terrorists, which is an especially dangerous path to tread on, as anti-Islamic fervor is disconcertingly on the rise. Scully gently reminding the viewer (and her fellow characters) that "Not all Muslims are extremists," is frankly, too little, too late.

Nevertheless, it is not terrorism, but motherhood, that turns out to be one of the major plot points of the episode. Mothers are depicted in a quasi-religious way (as when a guest character, Shriaz, is shown being held by his mother, Noora, in a way that is reminiscent of a Christian Pietà), and as being the source of life-changing love. At the end of the episode, Mulder muses that he has found:

"....Something to trump all hatred: Mother-love. I refuse to believe that mothers are having babies just to be martyrs. I want to believe that mothers have a greater purpose, for all of us."

Scully replies:

"I agree. A child is not a tool to spread hatred."

It's clear that Scully, once again, is thinking about William. Mother-love as magical panacea to cure all of humanity may be a stretch (although I am all for celebrating female power). Simone de Beauvoir once claimed that many women "are made to see motherhood as the essence of their life and the fulfillment of their destiny." Although motherhood is important to Scully (and doesn't make her any weaker of a character), seeing her disproportionally perseverate over the loss of William, especially when compared to Mulder's apparent ability to get on with his life, saddens me as a feminist viewer of The X-Files. Frankly, it seems out of character for Scully to struggle so hard with her decision to give William up for adoption—a decision she made in the certainty that William would be safer without her.

Is Scully, a character that I have claimed to be one of the best written characters on television, regardless of gender, getting pigeonholed into this pit of guilt and loss without redemption? I certainly hope not.

Fellow fans of The X-Files, what do you think of the most recent revival? Do you think that we are going to get a spin off with Agent Miller and Agent Einstein (I'm not a fan of that idea)? Was "Babylon" or "My Struggle" the worst episode of the season? Did you notice the motherhood themes this season too? Please sound off below!