The Science of Belief: Unraveling Empiricism and Faith in The X-Files

The Heretical Sayyadina
26 min readDec 21, 2022
Danielle Pajak Illustrations

“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. . .” | John 14:11

“Mr. Mulder, why are those like yourself, who believe in the existence of extraterrestrial life on this earth, not dissuaded by all the evidence to the contrary?”
“Because, all the evidence to the contrary, is not entirely dissuasive.”
“Precisely.”

Two figures standing against the pouring rain. The night pitch black and indiscernible, their car mysteriously stalled in the middle of the street. The first figure, Agent Dana Scully, stands looking very wet and incredulous as she investigates the face of the taller second figure, her newly assigned partner, Fox Mulder. His eyes are alight with a brightness that cuts through the darkness between them, his whole body quivering with a sudden intense energy that astounds and fascinates her. He seems impervious to the water drenching him as he yells over the rushing rain. Lost time, he is ranting like a madman now, abductees. Aliens. His arms reaching to the storming night sky, as if inviting the heavens themselves to reach down and swallow him whole. It is impossible, she is thinking. This is not how the universe works. Time is invariant, an attribute that is conserved, something that can neither be lost nor gained. Yet here was a highly intelligent agent of the Federal Investigation Bureau talking about time disappearing and extraterrestrial encounters as if they were an undeniable fact. Although Scully turns away scoffing at what her partner speaks with such conviction, something ignites inside of her despite herself. Curiosity perhaps, but maybe something much deeper than that. Fox Mulder’s belief is contagious, alluring, irresistible. Suddenly, their car inexplicably starts again, head lights slashing through the rain. He smiles at her, a knowing smile that says, “I was right!”, a smile that she follows back to the car, back onto that road, and back into the darkness that lies for them ahead.

Here I am entering into The X-Files fan club 30 years too late, but as they say, better late than never. A show that is full of history-making 90s era pop culture that I, unfortunately, missed out on, but I get to enjoy now perhaps in a way that I would not have been able to do in any other time of my life. It is a fascinating show! A fascinating premise! Yet, we all know that the crux of what draws us to this show is its two iconic leads, Scully and Mulder. In the aged old tradition of the detective genre that first began with Holmes and Watson, we have the self-absorbed genius with his loyal sidekick, partner, and friend. Only here we are given a new twist on this literary trope, as they are presented more as equals, as lovers, as either two-sides of the same coin or a compelling dichotomy — one the believer, the other the skeptic. We get to see our favorite duo go up against serial killers, psychics, ghosts, monsters, demons, government conspiracies, and, of course, aliens — with Mulder running unquestioningly with every hair-brained theory he comes up with each week while Scully provides the rational perspective, the steady voice of reason to bring balance (or is to discredit?) the work of the X-Files. That is what the audiences came to expect from the show and how it is usually remembered to its detriment. I think the show has something so much deeper to say. I do not see Scully and Mulder as strictly black and white portrayal of faith and skepticism, but a blending spectrum of the two that explores the nature of knowing itself and the attributes of Truth. So, let us open this case file and see where the evidence takes us.

Mulder as Believer

“Are you scared?”
“I know I should be but I’m not.”
“Do you know why?”
“Because of the voice.”
“The voice?”
“The voice in my head.”
“What’s it telling you?”
“Not to be afraid. It’s telling me no harm will come to her, and that one day she’ll return.”
“Do you believe the voice?”
“I want to believe.”
| 1x04 Conduit

“Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” | Mark 9:24

“Spooky” Mulder has become a pariah at the FBI, a black sheep who everyone makes fun of behind his back. To the FBI he is a mad genius to be tolerated and to the secret organization of the nefarious “Cigarette Smoking Man,” a pawn to be manipulated. Yet in the X-Files Mulder sees something akin to his salvation. It isn’t just his quest to find the truth behind his sister’s disappearance, but essentially it is about finding the truth, the ultimate Truth. The path the X-Files open to this end is one that many avoid, and evil men try to keep hidden and utilize for their own selfish gain, but Mulder embraces it with a fervent and deep desire, even to his detriment. Mulder suffers much on his journey to the Truth, the loss of his parents, the loss of ever reuniting with his sister, and even having to watch the suffering of the person he loves most in the world, his partner and friend, Dana Scully. Only, is this not what the pursuit of truth demands of us? “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:7) If we, like Mulder, must endure this painful exercise, we must ask the critical question: What is Truth?

Often when Mulder was on a case and investigating a crime scene, he would be asked what he was searching for, and Mulder’s response was usually, “I will know it when I see it.” Yet I believe we need something a little more concrete as our starting definition. What is Truth’s nature? Is it a mystery that is revealed, as Scully said as she beheld the impossible, “through a sign, symbol, or revelation?” (6x22 “Biogenesis”) Or does it take on conscious form through mankind’s ultimate search in whether he is alone in the universe? Is Truth essentially just the pursuit of “the Other?”

I think this idea is best exemplified in probably one of the greatest X-Files episodes ever made, episode nineteen of season six, “The Unnatural”. In the episode, Mulder speaks with a man, a so-called Arthur Dales, brother of Arthur Dales, the man who originally opened the X-Files cases at the Bureau. Mulder is seeking answers, but Mr. Dales is infuriatingly cryptic, or perhaps it is Mulder who is approaching the pursuit of his answers all wrong. “You’re making me feel like a child,” Mulder complains as he is forced to sit at this man’s feet to listen to his strange story. “Perfect. That’s exactly the right place to start from, then, isn’t it?” Dales retorts. “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3). And so, Dales tells an extremely fantastical tale set on the backdrop of the racial unrest of the 1950s, where because of the game of baseball a most unlikely friendship blossoms between a man and being from another world.

It begins with a small-town police officer tasked with protecting a local player in the town of Roswell New Mexico, a black man by the name of Josh Exley, from being physically harassed or attacked by the members of the Klan. Mr. Exley is an amazing prodigy, the star player of “The Greys,” but he seems uninterested in making it to the big leagues. He loves the game for its own sake, but unfortunately there are forces beyond either of their control that seek to destroy even such a good and simple thing as men enjoying a game of baseball. It is through this intrigue that Dales, who we discover is the officer of the story, learns Exley’s real identity. What unfolds is, essentially, a love story as their bond of friendship deepens as Dales and Exley defy the laws of the universe. It is a friendship that transforms them both, quite literally, in profound and mysterious ways.

“Mr. Mulder, maybe you’d better start paying a little less attention to the heart of the mystery and a little more attention to the mystery of the heart.” What Mulder learns is that Truth isn’t an object obtained, but a relationship cultivated. It is a deep mystery wherein we don’t understand everything in complete clarity all at once, but it is something that unfolds slowly and intentionally. It is something that we discover in the face of Another. Truth is a Person who we can make love to, talk to, listen to, and to cherish and to be cherished by. Mulder realizes that in all his searching, he has only come closest to the Truth in the face of his loyal partner, the woman who has been at his side the whole time — the woman whom his heart loves and has always loved since the first moment she stepped into his basement office.

“Shut up, Mulder, I’m playing baseball.”

When Jesus was with His disciples on that fateful evening before His death, He did something peculiar. He changed out of his clothes, wrapped a towel around His waist, and began to wash the feet of His disciples. His disciples were confused and indignant to see their Lord in such a humiliating position. However, Christ assured them by saying, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand,” and continued by declaring, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” (John 13:7–8). Intimacy. Hands that can touch skin. An exchange between persons. An encounter that transforms, makes clean, those who partake in it. Often in Mulder’s pursuit of the Truth, he was left with nothing to show for it. His heart would grow in anticipation, only for his hopes to be often dashed, leaving nothing he could grasp or behold, nothing that he could show for his pains. The path of walking with Truth is so often confusing, exasperating, and difficult. “What I am doing you do not understand now. . .” And yet, Truth is there waiting at our side, like a tiny, infuriatingly rational woman who is loyal and true, who made you a whole person. Or like an extraterrestrial being who mysteriously becomes a man, his broken skin weeping red on the loving hands of his friend. Until that fateful day comes around when you can behold the glory of Truth’s face, like a secret moment in a hallway where you understand at last that she was the one all along, or a desperate moment in the Antarctic where Truth shakes the very ground beneath you and rises to the sky in glorious light. “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. . .” (Matthew 17:2)

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” | Matthew 5:6

Mulder as Skeptic

“So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” | John 20:25

“You know, the thing I find most surprising about this case is you. You are one skeptical guy, Agent Mulder.”
“Skeptical?!”
“Oh, yeah.”
“I’ve been called a lot of things. Skeptical, however, is not one.”
| 5x16 Mind’s Eye

Mulder’s identity is so wrapped up in his being the misunderstood weirdo who genuinely believes in poltergeists, vampires, and, of course, extraterrestrials, that he is blind to even his own internal uncertainties. In many ways, “Mulder the Skeptic” is the aspect of himself that he struggles with the most, even more so than Scully’s own struggle with her Faith. He fights against it, denies it, even despises it within himself. He doesn’t embrace the role willingly, and when he does, he surrenders completely to it out of despair. Essentially this part of himself is what Scully brings to the surface and exposes, and when he lashes out at her when she challenges him, he is really lashing out at his own fears, insecurities, and doubts. As Mulder says, “I want to believe,” never “I believe.” Belief does not come naturally to him, and this is revealed in his overzealous tendency to follow “the white rabbit” down every rabbit hole regardless of the danger to himself and others.

In the episode “Quagmire” (3x22), Scully sizes him up astutely, when they end up stranded in the middle of a murky lake in the dead of night, searching for “Big Blue,” the “Loch Ness Monster” of a small town of Georgia. Freezing and unable to know when help will come, Mulder inquires as to the name of Scully’s dog “Queequeg”, and she explains how Moby Dick was something she and her father shared. She would call him “Ahab” and he would call her “Starbuck.” It is then that Scully realizes that fiction has become reality, that Mulder is Ahab. He so driven and consumed in his pursuit of “Truth,” whether it be life’s “cruelties or mysteries,” that everything takes on a significance just to fit his “megalomaniacal cosmology.” Essentially, the “Truth” that Mulder is searching for is as elusive as “a white whale.” Will there ever be a time where Mulder will say, “I have found it! I have arrived!” What is he even really searching for?

Even later, after all is said and done, when the both of them uncover the greatest government conspiracy known to man, even then Mulder is not satisfied. “Mulder, look, after all you’ve done, after all you’ve uncovered — a conspiracy of men doing human experiments, men who are all now dead — you exposed their secrets. I mean, you’ve won. What more could you possibly hope to do or to find?” Mulder replies, “My sister.” (Biogenesis 6x22) There will always be something else, some other pursuit or quest that drives him, calls to him, and leads him on a merry chase. This is not because Truth is necessarily unobtainable, but because Mulder himself does not truly believe. Belief, by definition, is a statement of confidence in something that cannot be seen by human eyes or touched by human hands. When you believe, you are essentially putting your money where your mouth is. Belief not only requires Faith, but it also requires a response to the object of that Faith. “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17) You must respond to what you believe in, or else it becomes a vain and pointless exercise; and what the Truth may ask of you is to give your all; your life, your identity, even your very sense of autonomy.

Belief is an act of worship, it is a humiliating act, an act of obedience. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8) Belief is an action, and one that takes the complete person, and not just a part. It is for this reason that Mulder struggles with belief, because to finally come to the end of his quest will mean a kind of response from him that he is not ready or willing to give. It would mean yielding himself completely and letting go. It would mean an end to his searching and to finally find a place of rest. Even the self-proclaimed psychic, Yappi, recognized this unbelief in Mulder’s heart. “I can assure you, Mister Yappi, I’m a believer in psychic ability,” boasts Mulder with slight derision. “So you say with your mouth but your thoughts tell me the truth,” declares Yappi. (Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose 3x04)

It is at the end of season four, that Mulder’s belief is put to its test and is found wanting. Like the disciples, who when they realized that Christ had been taken into custody, fled from Him and denied Him, so Mulder has his “Garden of Gethsemane” moment and becomes bitterly disillusioned and denies everything he had sought his entire life.

When a man, Arlinsky, who is leading an expedition team to excavate the frozen body of an alleged extraterrestrial, comes to Mulder with possible alien DNA in ice core samples, Mulder is finally confronted with the unbelief that has lain in his heart the whole time. For he follows Alinsky into the snowy tundra, not because he believes, but because he desires, once and for all, to take hold of Truth in his hands and to see it with his own eyes. The moment that they take back the remains of the frozen body and begin the autopsy and examination, is the moment not unlike the Apostle Thomas, who, not believing that Christ had risen from the dead, demanded to be able to see the marks of His death and touch the wounds of His hands and side. Mulder cannot believe, and so his response of unbelief is to demand evidence instead.

It is at this point that Mulder’s heart is vulnerable to doubt and lies, as Kritschgau, an agent of the Defense Department, just so happens to cross their path and reveals to them the whole “truth.” The extraterrestrial stories are all a government hoax made to cover up the deeper conspiracy of government betrayal and military experiments. The seal in the coffin is when Mulder is told that Scully was specifically given cancer to manipulate him and make him believe in the alien mythos. His soul crushed, Mulder goes back to his apartment in utter despair. Like how the apostles must have felt as they witnessed the promised Messiah be lead like a sheep to a slaughter, when they had believed He would come to save them in triumph, so Mulder finds that everything he thought he had believed crumble around him in the cold, merciless light of day. Even later when both Scully and Chief Director Skinner begin to cast doubt on the validity of Kristchgau’s testimony because of the experiences and events surrounding Cassandra Spender, wondering if the extraterrestrial explanation might be the most logical explanation after all, Mulder pushes it all away in rueful disbelief.

SKINNER: “Over the past five years I’ve doubted you, only to be persuaded by the power of your belief in extraterrestrial phenomena, and I’m doubting you now, not because of that belief, but because extraterrestrial phenomena is frankly the more plausible explanation.” MULDER: “Then I suggest you put that in your report.” | The Red and Black (5x14).

His heart of disbelief has finally closed him off to being receptive to anything at all. What results is Mulder’s “death.” Although it is event that he and Scully take the opportunity to orchestrate and fake because of their enemies, metaphorically speaking Mulder does die, committing suicide in his apartment. The inevitable outcome of Mulder’s pursuit of Truth leads him to Death. It seems, then, that the attitude in our search for Truth matters just as much as finding the Truth itself.

Gethsemane 4x24 | The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio (1602)

“Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’” | John 20:29

Scully as Believer

“Sometimes we must come full circle to find the truth. Why does that surprise you?
“Mostly, it just makes me afraid.”
“Afraid?”
“Afraid that God is speaking, but that no one’s listening.”
| 3x11 Revelations

“Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way…” | Psalm 2:11–12

Scully stares unseeing ahead of her. She has just received news that no one is ready to receive, but the news is made even more chilling by the means of its telling. Scully has cancer. A man with an incredible ability can see straight through to her, as if perceiving her very soul. The cancer is the means of his salvation, but the end of Scully’s entire world. This isn’t Scully’s first brush with death either. The men who gave her the cancer were also responsible for her abduction and experimentation that nearly cost her life. Yet, notably, this too isn’t Scully’s first experience, and it would not be her last. Repeatedly, whenever Scully is brought to the brink of the supernatural, it often done by the means of mortality. From the loss of her beloved father, to the tragic loss of a miraculous daughter who never had a chance, to the time she lay bleeding from a gunshot wound and Death himself came to take her but took a man who had long evaded him in her stead (Tithonus 6x10), Death seems to be a common occurrence in Scully’s life. If Death was the result of Mulder’s disbelief, it will be through confronting Death that we can understand Scully’s faith.

When Scully first sees the apparition of her recently departed father, his mouth moving soundlessly as if coming from a great distance although he was sitting straight across from her, this becomes an encounter with her own belief. Unable to explain it by any means of science and unsettled in her spirit, things only become more complicated when the killer and self-proclaimed psychic, Luther Boggs, who is sentenced to death row, appears to channel her father’s spirit. Is her father really trying to communicate through Boggs from beyond the grave or is Boggs playing a more dangerous game to avoid the fate that has been a long time coming for him? Mulder’s opinions are absolute. He believes Boggs to not only be a cold-blooded killer, but a liar and a fraud. Yet Scully isn’t so sure, and she seems to follow the traces of a white rabbit unseen by Mulder and meant only for her. Information provided by Boggs ends up becoming instrumental in their current case of a kidnapping. Where no one believes him, Scully is listening. Perhaps things aren’t so black and white as Mulder seems to think.

Yet later when Scully finally explains everything to Mulder, making him understand the internal struggle of grief and faith that has lain at her heart, she begins to rationalize all the circumstances away. “If he [Boggs] knew that I was your partner, he could have found out everything he knew about me. About my father,” she explains, “Visions of deceased loved ones are common psychological phenomena. If he knew that my father had. . .” “Dana,” Mulder interrupts softly with a rare moment of his using her first name, “After all you’ve seen, after all the evidence, why can’t you believe?” Pausing, Scully finally answers, “I’m afraid. I’m afraid to believe.”

I believe this reveals something critical regarding Scully’s understanding of belief. Unlike Mulder’s struggle with belief and inability to trust, Scully has a natural disposition towards it. She is the one who saw that there was more to Boggs than meets the eye and it was she who had the encounters with the supernatural, not Mulder. This is because Scully understands the sobriety of belief. The fear Scully is expressing here in not a cowardly kind of fear, the kind that would deny what she knows to be true, but it is a fear born from reverence and respect. She understands the profundity of it, what it would mean once she says the words, “I believe.” The supernatural frightens her because it isn’t something that can be taken lightly. “For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given…” (Hebrews 12:18–20)

Even when Scully finds herself back in the confessional after six years because of the incredible heavenly miracles surrounding a boy chosen for a greater purpose (Revelations 3x11), her fear isn’t one that would cause her to turn her face away. Throughout the episode, she and Mulder are at odds because Mulder scorns any concept of the Divine, but Scully sees the evidence of miracles all around her: the inexplicable marks of the stigmata on Kevin, the unexplained burned marks on the victims’ necks, the unnatural decomposition of Owen, and the voice of God in her own heart calling her to protect this young boy from the forces of evil. The fear that she expresses in the end is that if God had meant these events to occur specifically to speak to her and lead her back to Him, as Mulder saw and believed none of these things, how terrible would it be to not respond to such authority? Staring at us, the audience, with tears in her eyes and a tremor in her voice, Scully speaks of being afraid, “afraid that God is speaking, but that no one’s listening.” The dread of the Divine has filled her. How dare we not listen to the Voice speaking from Heaven?

This is what Death enables Scully to recognize, as through it she touches the fringes of supernatural’s garment. When we stare at our own mortality, at the “injustice of it and its meaninglessness” (Detour 5x04) all pretenses are stripped from us; “Memento Mori” is for times of reckoning. For Scully that time finally arrives, when even medical science, her cornerstone, fails her. Nothing has helped the cancer into remission, which makes her willing and desperate to insert a chip discovered and stolen by Mulder from the Syndicate. Yet this too seems to fail with no changes or improvements in her body. Reaching her breaking point, Scully cries to her mother, “I fight and I fight and I fight, but I’m so stupid. […] I mean, why do I wear this? Why do I wear this, Mom?” Scully gestures passionately to the golden cross necklace in her hands — that same necklace that Owen Jarvis from “Revelations” had used to convict her heart: “You believe me, don’t you? I mean, you must wear that as a reminder.” “I put something that I don’t even know or understand under the skin of my neck. I will subject myself to these crazy treatments, and I keep telling myself that I’m doing everything I can, but it’s a lie!”

Scully’s fear and anguish in the face of her own mortality becomes a catalyst of recognizing that her faith is not a passive thing. Recognizing her own hypocrisy, she gives way to something greater than herself. Calling in Father McCue, she begins to pray (Redux II 5x02). Scully has finally looked with an unveiled face at the Truth, and her response is trust, her response is worship — her response is submission to Truth’s authority.

The Sixth Extinction: Amor Fati (7x02). Scully is visited by the spirit of Albert Hosteen who convinces her to pray when she can do nothing else for Mulder who has gone missing due to the vainglorious purposes of the Cigarette Smoking Man.

“ […] for behold, he is praying. . .” | Acts 9:11

Scully as Skeptic

“It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” | Proverbs 25:2

“What I find fantastic is any notion that there are answers beyond the realm of science. The answers are there. You just have to know where to look.” | 1x01 Pilot

“Agent Mulder. I’m Dana Scully, I’ve been assigned to work with you.” A young, brilliant agent of the FBI with a bright, honest face and beautiful red hair greets her new partner, a handsome young man with a boyish charm and a twinkle of mischief in his puppy dog eyes. Thus begins a partnership that would transform them both in ways neither of them would expect, but most especially in ways that their enemies never expected. If the X-Files’ purpose was to discern the Truth, Mulder’s enemies saw Scully’s skepticism as a means of frustrating and discrediting that purpose. This conclusion was to be their downfall. Throughout all our examination of how belief and skepticism play a role in The X-Files, I would argue that Scully’s skepticism is the heart and foundation of the show, and not in the way one may expect. What the Syndicate assumed, and what many assume, is that science and faith are incompatible, and that if you bring the supernatural under the scrutiny of logic and scientific rigor, it will be shown to be fraudulent and erroneous. What I love about Dana Scully, though, is that she proves that this is not the purpose of skepticism. Her integrity and strict adherence to rationality is precisely what is needed to show that science is a means of obtaining answers, but it is — in of itself — not an answer.

Namely, what Scully’s skepticism shows is that there is a limit to what can be perceived by and understood through empirical evidence. This conclusion does not abandon logic, but is, in fact, a conclusion come to by logic. Going back to episode eleven of season three “Revelations,” it was Scully’s adherence to rationalism that enabled her to draw the necessary conclusions that she did. For example, when she was doing the autopsy report for Owen Lee Jarvis — a very dispassionate and methodical discipline in of itself — she notices things like how Owen’s body was not decomposing, even though it had been fourteen hours from his death. She also takes note how rigor mortis has not set in, and his body temperature continues to remain at 98 degrees. Mystified by these findings, she even has Mulder smell the corpse with her because she detects “a faint floral odor.” These conclusions are arrived at through scientific means, as Scully is quite logically faced with the only conclusion she can come up with even if it has its roots in religion. “In catechism,” she explains, “we learned of instances like this — so-called “incorruptibles”, whose bodies wouldn’t decay and who emitted a smell of flowers.” Empirical evidence cannot, by its nature, explain the supernatural, but it is through empirical evidence that Scully arrives at this conclusion.

“Her integrity and strict adherence to rationality is precisely what is needed to show that science is a means of obtaining answers, but it is — in of itself — not an answer.”

Many times, as she and Mulder took on cases of the bizarre and surreal nature, Scully questions their validity, screens them through rigorous logic and the scientific method, and often discovers the threshold of the supernatural as a result. Now Mulder is often exasperated by Scully’s strict rationalism, as he expresses to her, “Scully, in six years, how often have I been wrong? […] I mean, every time I bring you a case we go through this perfunctory dance. You tell me I’m not being scientifically rigorous and that I’m off my nut, and then in the end who turns out to be right like 98.9% of the time?” (Field Trip 6x21)

This is the primary source of contention between the two of them, but what they discover and what we come to learn through them is that it was never about who was right and who was wrong, but how both together, working together, obtained the Truth. This was achieved because Scully challenged Mulder constantly. She made him work for his conclusions, even if those conclusions ended up being correct most of the time. She made Mulder show his work and kept him humble, because being proven right is not the goal of skepticism, but arriving to the Truth, and that means nothing, and no one is above being questioned.

So it is because of Scully’s honest nature and dedication to rationality, her skepticism, that ends up validating Mulder’s work, not debunking it. Even Scully erroneously believed that success would have looked like her being able to scientifically explain everything that they encountered, but that was never her role. She even starts to convince herself that she is holding Mulder back. This comes to its head in The X-Files: Fight the Future, when after being thwarted once again by their enemies, Scully decides to resign from the FBI. She tells Mulder, “Why did they assign me to you in the first place, Mulder? To debunk your work. To rein you in, to shut you down.” She thinks she is holding Mulder back from obtaining the Truth, a hindrance to him rather than a help. In a moment of rare vulnerability and clarity from Mulder, he confesses to her one of the most beautiful and passionate confessions of love that could be expressed and the crux of what this show has always been about. “But you saved me,” he corrects her. “As difficult and as frustrating as it’s been sometimes, your goddamned strict rationalism and science have saved me a thousand times over. You kept me honest. You made me a whole person.”

“I owe you everything. Scully, and you owe me nothing.”

This critical turning point in their relationship, as we now come full circle to the Truth, finds its perfect climax in season six episode twenty-one “Field Trip.” When the skeletal remains of a husband and wife are found, although they had only gone missing three days previously, Mulder and Scully once more find themselves at odds as Mulder believes there to be an extraterrestrial explanation whereas Scully focuses on the more mundane explanation of ritualistic killings. Upset that Scully still seems to question him regardless of all they have seen and experienced, Mulder decides to explore the field where the bodies were found alone. What follows is a surreal journey as both Mulder and Scully become trapped by a fungal organism that ensnares their prey with vivid hallucinations while it digests them underground. At the mercy of the hallucinogenic properties of the mushroom, it seems almost impossible for Mulder and Scully to escape as they go from one disorienting illusion to the next. However, it will be both of them together that inevitably saves them and brings them closest to the Truth.

In the first scenario, Mulder seems to achieve everything he has always ever sought. He ends up finding the husband and wife who claim they were abductees and that the aliens planted the skeletons of them as decoys. Even more incredible than this, Mulder inexplicably boards a space craft and takes an abductee of his own! Leading Scully into his bedroom, he shows her a small alien who begins to communicate with them telepathically. In awe, Scully admits that Mulder was right about everything, words that Mulder has longed to hear. Yet despite this, something seems to be nagging in the back of Mulder’s mind. Nothing about the events seem to be adding up. Why would the aliens fake the couple’s death? What was the mysterious substance that was found on their skeletons? Nothing about their stories is adding up, but Scully insists, “Mulder, I’m admitting that I was wrong […] if I, of all people, can believe this then why can’t you?”

In the next scenario, Scully finds the alleged skeletal remains of Mulder. Distraught and confused, Scully seems to be forced into accepting her own theory that it was a ritualistic killing. Skinner himself insists strongly that Scully’s original theory was correct. Even the Lone Gunman parrot Scully’s words back to her, saying that her findings were very thorough and scientific. Outraged by the surreal turn of events, Scully refuses to accept her original theory. “My role in the X-Files has always been to provide a rational scientific perspective to cases that would seem to defy explanation — a counterpoint to Agent Mulder,” she explains. “How many X-Files has my scientific approach fully and satisfactorily explained?” “Your reports have consistently made sense of his conclusions,” persists Skinner. “Sir, this one makes no sense at all!” exclaims Scully. “Are you suggesting this is anything other than a murder?” asks Skinner. Tears streaming down her face, Scully answers, “That’s what Agent Mulder would have thought.”

In the final scenario, it seems as if Mulder and Scully have finally figured out that they were both hallucinating and that they were trapped by this carnivorous fungal organism. Waking up from his stupor, Mulder heroically pushes himself up through the ground and drags himself and Scully from out of the grip of this organism. Later, they are in Skinner’s office giving their final report. Skinner admires their exemplary work and remarks on the precedent that both are signing off in agreement over the explanation of events. Yet, once again, something nags at the back of Mulder’s mind. How did they escape? How did they manage to break out of the hallucination even with the substance still in their system? More mysteriously of them all, if they had been partially digested by this organism, where were the burns on their skin? In a sudden horrible realization, Mulder realizes that they never escaped! “We’re still trapped underground!” he exclaims, and then shoots Skinner to prove it — the digestive fluid pouring from the bullet wounds.

What Scully and Mulder discover through this otherworldly encounter is that by questioning their reality, allowing their circumstances, even if they seemed to validate their worldviews, to be examined rigorously, this is what enables them to be led to the Truth. For Mulder, it was making space for the rational that questioned his own biases. For Scully, it was to be open to extreme possibilities even if she could not scientifically explain them. This exercise requires them together working in tandem. Mulder was perceptive to call it “a dance,” for that is precisely what it is.

Using that climatic moment to gain some level of awareness, Mulder’s hand reaches the surface where Skinner and the rest of the FBI, in breathing masks, are searching for their agents. Skinner notices the movement and rushes to their aid. They are pulled out of the ground, barely conscious and badly burned, but alive. Scully and Mulder are rushed into the ambulance, now safe and in the real world. Mulder looks over Scully and reaches out a hand to her. Scully, not even needing to look, reaches with her hand to clasp his. She opens her eyes and meets his gaze. In silence, their hands continue to clutch one another. Their salvation, their arrival to the Truth, this dance between the supernatural and rationalism, between faith and science, will always be this: them together.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” | 1 Corinthians 13:12

--

--

The Heretical Sayyadina

“One can begin to reshape the landscape with a single flower.” - Ambassador Spock