In Defense of Teena Mulder

Opening Statement

In my corner of the fandom, Teena Mulder is almost universally reviled. She’s seen as at best distant and uncaring, and at worst callous, manipulative, and downright evil. And I tended to agree with that characterization. But then one day as I was watching The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati, I noticed something I hadn’t before. When Teena is in Mulder’s hospital room and we hear what’s going through her mind, her thought is “I love you my darling boy.” That shook me. She wasn’t manipulating anyone or anything. We just caught a glimpse of her true feelings for her son. I decided I needed to look closer at the relationship between Mulder and his mother, to see if I had gotten it wrong.

I rewatched every episode with Teena Mulder and paid close attention to her interactions with Mulder. I also looked at how Mulder remembered her in flashbacks. What I saw surprised me. I found Teena to be a much more sympathetic character than I originally thought. Don’t get me wrong, she’s not Mother of the Year material. But I found her relationship with Mulder to be rather close, if dysfunctional, until events within the series led to an estrangement. So maybe Teena Mulder isn’t the monster many of us think her to be.

The Evidence

Mulder genuinely cares for Teena

We first meet Teena Mulder in Colony. When Mulder arrives at his father’s house, Bill tells him, “She wanted you to come.” This tells me that Teena either didn’t want to exclude Mulder from this family situation or that she needed him there for support. The next scene shows us it’s the latter. Mulder tucks his mother into bed, and she looks to him for reassurance. Their roles in the parent/child relationship seem reversed. He’s the caregiver; she seeks comfort from him. This could be the natural progression of an aging parent and adult child, but I don’t think so. I think Mulder took on that role a long time ago, when Samantha disappeared. Mulder doesn’t seem to resent this part. He seems to genuinely care for his mother. In any event, Colony shows us a close and fairly comfortable relationship.

Mulder tucks Teena into bed in Colony

Teena Mulder’s next appearance is in The Blessing Way. And this is significant to me: the first person Mulder goes to see after he’s healed is Teena. Teena is thrilled and relieved, she hugs Mulder with tears in her eyes. It could be argued that she knew from Scully that Mulder was alive and she is just putting on a show here, but I don’t buy that. I think her reaction is genuine.

Teena can’t bring herself to face the past

Of course we learn that Mulder is there not just to reassure his mother, even if that was his first instinct. He also needs her to remember the past. Teena tells Mulder she doesn’t know, then says she doesn’t remember, then finally asks him not to do this to her. So it’s clear she has information she’s not willing to give Mulder. I can understand why some people fault Teena for this. Mulder just wants the truth and she won’t help him. But when we learn in later episodes what she’s been through, how she’s been used and traumatized, her plea of “don’t do this to me” takes on a new meaning. It’s not just an attempt to avoid the past. It’s a cry of desperation.

Teena relies on Mulder for emotional support

Mulder reassures Teena in Paper Clip

Mulder again goes to Teena for information in Paper Clip. Teena eventually reveals that Bill chose for Samantha to be abducted because she couldn’t make a choice, and she hated him for it. I don’t think Teena is saying she hated Bill for choosing Samantha instead of Mulder, because she just said she couldn’t choose between her children. She’s saying she hated Bill for taking part in this scheme at all. Once again, we see Mulder caring for his mother, as he comforts her while she cries. Teena relies on Mulder for emotional support, though she doesn’t seem capable of offering him the same, and Mulder quite willingly gives it.

Mulder has been the parental figure for a long time

We start to learn more about Teena’s past in Talitha Cumi. She meets with CSM, and he talks about her children and compares himself to Bill Mulder. His words seem like a veiled threat to me. Teena, true to form, says she’s repressed it all. I think Teena actively tries to forget the past, but she really can’t. Instead she lives like a person in shock. This is why Mulder had to take on the role of caregiver at a young age and why she let that happen. After her confrontation with CSM, Teena has a stroke. When Mulder hears the news he rushes to see her and immediately starts caring for her in the hospital. This behavior isn’t odd under the circumstances, but we already know it’s their normal dynamic.

Mulder Cares for Teena in Talitha Cumi

Teena is a victim, not a conspirator

When X shows Mulder pictures of Teena with CSM, Mulder refuses to believe there’s an illicit connection, responding, “I know my mother.” Mulder is a man who sees conspiracies everywhere, but he doesn’t believe his mother could be involved in one. He sees her as a victim, not as a co-conspirator. I think this has to do with the things he witnessed as a child. It’s one of the reasons he has become the parent figure/caregiver.

Mulder blames himself for Teena’s pain

The other reason Mulder has taken on the caregiver role is he believes he’s responsible for everything his mother has gone through. In Herrenvolk, Mulder tells the Bounty Hunter he’s willing to die to save his mother’s life. He’s trying to atone for his guilt over not being able to protect his sister. He even tries to bring the drone Samantha to his mother to replace the child she lost. When he fails, he’s despondent.

Mulder is despondent at Teena’s bedside in Herrenvolk

Their relationship can’t weather Teena’s denial or Mulder’s misplaced guilt

Mulder goes to his mother’s house in Paper Hearts looking for answers. Teena is surprised but happy to see him. She calls him “Honey,” and he’s affectionate as well, hugging Teena, rubbing her back, assuring her it’s okay that she doesn’t remember. This is just more evidence of the close relationship they share. But it also becomes clear in this episode that Mulder has always felt responsible for Samantha’s abduction. His parents must have realized this. I think Teena was suffering the effects of her own trauma and was unable to give her son the emotional care he needed. Mulder, trying to make amends, became the caregiver.

Bill Mulder is much more culpable, as we see in Demons. To be fair, it’s never quite established that the flashbacks Mulder experiences are true memories. But if they are, they explain a lot about Teena. I think that, while the details may not all be accurate, the sense impressions are, and Mulder is remembering more than he’s confabulating. We learn from these flashbacks, which Mulder describes as “very vivid, very real,” that Bill Mulder abused Teena, at least verbally. At some point Teena fought back, but she wasn’t able to prevent Samantha’s abduction.

Mulder’s flashback of his parents fighting in Demons

Mulder goes to see Teena to confront her about the things he’s remembering. When Teena sees him pull up in front of her house, there’s a big smile on her face. I never noticed this before, because I always remember what comes next, but Teena is clearly delighted to see her son. But then Mulder accuses her of keeping things from him, and she turns cold. This has always been Teena’s trigger, being confronted with the past she wants to forget. When he accuses her of betraying her husband with CSM, Teena slaps Mulder. When her denials won’t satisfy him, Teena lashes out.

Teena isn’t capable of giving Mulder what he needs

I think a lot of people see this scene between Teena and Mulder as representative of their relationship all along. But I think it more clearly shows a turning point. This is where it goes from close to distant, from affectionate to cold. What’s fascinating is Teena’s last attempt to care for her son, telling him he’s bleeding. But he’s been the caretaker for so long that she doesn’t know how to do it, and she runs away. So does he, and it’s a long time before we see Teena again.

Teena turns her back on Mulder in Demons

We don’t see Teena at all in seasons 5 and 6. Her next scene is the one in Amor Fati that started me re-evaluating Teena. It’s an absolutely heartbreaking scene. Mulder can’t speak or move, but he’s screaming for his mother in his mind, and she can’t hear him. She says she loves him, but she also gives him over to CSM knowing he’s completely helpless. I don’t understand Teena’s motivation here. But I want her “I love you my darling boy” to count for something, so I have to believe she really thinks this is the only way to help Mulder.

Teena shows her true feelings for Mulder in Amor Fati

By the time we see Teena again in Sein Und Zeit, Mulder is surprised to hear from her. He asks if she’s okay, but he has no interest in continuing their conversation, and he doesn’t call her back.

Teena finally leads Mulder to the truth

For a long time I couldn’t understand or forgive Teena’s next action. Without answering any of the questions Mulder has been asking for years, she kills herself. But when I started to consider her life, and the trauma she’s suffered through abuse and loss, I knew she just wasn’t capable of having that conversation with Mulder. She redeems herself in Closure, though. Once Teena is in a place where her past can’t hurt her any more, she reaches out to Mulder with information he needs to find the truth. They both have closure, and I find it really very beautiful.

Teena leads Mulder to the truth in Closure

Closing argument

Teena Mulder was robbed of her opportunity and ability to be the kind of mother she wanted to be. She was married to an abusive man and involved with a manipulative monster. She was forced to choose between her children and when she refused, her agency was taken away from her. This broke her. She tried to carry on, but the only way forward was to turn to her son and place her burden on him. Their relationship became dysfunctional as Mulder took on the role of parent to his mother, but the bond was unmistakable. They were both too haunted by the past, though, and when Mulder’s search for answers disrupted the status quo, the bond was damaged. In the end, Teena’s love for Mulder found expression and offered him the gift of closure.

Teena never gave Mulder the emotional support he needed and she let him blame himself for things that weren’t his fault. But she did what she could to protect him. I can’t argue that Teena Mulder was a “good” mother, but she wasn’t a monster either.

The Skip List

The X-Files is my favorite show of all time. I am constantly in the middle of some sort of rewatch. Usually I start at the beginning and watch sequentially, although occasionally I’ll bounce around as the mood strikes me. Sometimes I’ll do a theme rewatch, but I have trouble sticking to it and often find myself watching additional off topic episodes. Following my last complete rewatch I started watching again from the beginning (because of course I did), but I knew there were some episodes I’d want to skip. I decided to create a list of “Episodes I Just Don’t Want to Watch.”

Not all of these are episodes I never want to watch, although some are. I made the list as I was going along, not beforehand, so some episodes are on the list just because I didn’t feel like watching them at that moment, while I would happily watch them another time. If I got to an episode I wasn’t sure about I asked for input from friends. If they could give me a reason why the episode was worth watching, I did. In most cases I didn’t regret it. Sometimes all it takes is a single line, or look, or touch. Sometimes the episode is too important within the context of the season to skip, even if I don’t particularly enjoy it.

I chatted with some friends as I was building my list, kept them updated season by season, and gave them a chance to talk me out of skipping certain episodes. When I finished my rewatch I looked at the list as a whole, and I was surprised by some of the results.

Episodes I Just Don’t Want to Watch

(Oct. ’18-Feb. ’19)

Season 1

  • Miracle Man
  • Shapes
  • Born Again

No real surprises for me here. I find these episodes drag. I don’t hate them though. I can manage them on a complete rewatch, but there’s really nothing that I look forward to about them. I considered skipping Young at Heart, but then Mulder goes and winks at Scully near the end and I couldn’t miss that.

Season 2

  • Red Museum
  • Excelsis Dei*
  • Dod Kalm

*This is one of two “never watch” episodes. It doesn’t exist for me even in a “complete” rewatch.

I thought the rib-eating, face-wiping scene in Red Museum might be enough to entice me to watch, but not this time. The episode just has too much going on, none of which is very exciting, for me to want to follow.

Excelsis Dei is garbage. It should never have been made. There is no way Mulder would NOT believe in entity rape or be so dismissive of a victim, and the xenophobia regarding the generic “Asian orderly” is offensive.

Dod Kalm is one that I will often watch for the sheer number of times Mulder touches Scully in the first two minutes, but that wasn’t enough for me this time. The slow pace of the scenes on the ship wasn’t what I was in the mood for.

I didn’t skip 3. Huh.

Season 3

  • The Walk
  • Revelations
  • Teso dos Bichos
  • Hell Money

This season was the biggest surprise for me. It’s one of my favorite seasons of The X-Files, but other than season 9 it had the largest number of episodes I felt like skipping. None of the episodes on my list surprises me though. They’re not good. I guess season 3 has some high highs and low lows.

Season 4

  • The Field Where I Died*
  • Sanguinarium
  • El Mundo Gira

*The second of my two “never watch” episodes

I know a lot of people love TFWID (and a lot of people don’t), but it just doesn’t work for me. It bothers me so much when I watch it that I have given myself permission to never watch it again. And as it turns out that’s just fine, because nothing that happens in the episode is of any consequence to the rest of the series. There are some absolutely beautiful images that I have no problem looking at though, as long as there’s no sound.

Sanguinarium, yuck. There’s nothing in the story or performances to overcome the unpleasantness.

El Mundo Gira I can enjoy from time to time. It has a lot of problems, but it’s not completely unwatchable. Just not on this rewatch.

I could have skipped Teliko, but the tagline keeps me coming back. Deceive Inveigle Obfuscate!

I was going to skip Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man, just because there’s so little Mulder and Scully and no x-file. But some friends convinced me to reconsider, and I’m glad I did. It’s such a good hour of television, even though it doesn’t fit the X-Files mold.

Season 5

  • Travelers

I don’t think I’ve ever made it all the way through Travelers without falling asleep. So I didn’t even try this time.

Season 6

  • The Beginning
  • Agua Mala

The Beginning is unpleasant. I remember it well enough that I don’t need to rewatch it to keep up with the mythology episodes that come after, so I didn’t see any need to put myself through it.

A lot of people love Agua Mala, but I’m not one of them. I find the constant bickering annoying rather than funny, and the jokes seem forced. Easily skippable.

I was convinced to watch Alpha by friends who think Jealous!Scully is hilarious. I could go either way on that.

Season 7

  • En Ami
  • Fight Club

The tension between Mulder and Scully at the end of En Ami was almost worth watching, but after the retcon in My Struggle III I’m in no hurry to revisit the episode.

Fight Club is truly terrible. Some of the banter between Mulder and Scully at the beginning (“Don’t go thinking I’m going to start doing the autopsies”) makes me want to watch it on occasion, but not this time.

I probably should have skipped First Person Shooter as well.

Season 8

  • Redrum
  • Surekill
  • Salvage

I think Redrum is a pretty good episode, but it’s one that really depends on the surprise making it worth watching. I had seen it recently enough that I didn’t feel the need to watch again this time.

Surekill and Salvage, ho hum.

Friends helped me decide Invocation was worth watching. There were some important Scully/Doggett moments.

I have skipped The Gift more often than I’ve watched it I think. But I’ve recently come to accept that Mulder’s Mysterious Brain Disease makes sense, so I watched it. I’m glad I did. It fits, dammit!

Season 9

  • Nothing Important Happened Today
  • Nothing Important Happened Today II
  • Daemonicus
  • 4-D
  • Hellbound
  • Provenance
  • Providence
  • Audrey Pauley
  • Underneath
  • Improbable
  • Scary Monsters
  • Jump the Shark
  • William+
  • Release
  • Sunshine Days

+I watched only until we see Mulder reflected in Scully’s eye

Clearly the episodes I wanted to watch would be a shorter list. I watched Lord of the Flies because I had just finished Breaking Bad and I wanted more Aaron Paul. I watched Trust No 1 because I had seen a discussion on Twitter about Scully’s reaction to the Shadow Man’s “one lonely night” comment, and I wanted to re-evaluate it. I watched John Doe because it’s a great episode. And I watched The Truth because there are so many wonderful moments I can overlook the parts I dislike.

As for the rest…eh. They just don’t draw me in as much as I’d like. Once in a while is enough for me.

Seasons 10 and 11

I didn’t skip any of the revival episodes. They’re new enough that I feel there’s still a lot I can get out of watching them.

And that’s the list. Now it’s time for my next rewatch!

Social Media Community

My Experience in the X-Files Fandom

This blog is adapted from Heart Eyes 4 David Duchovny: Creating a Social Media Community in the X-Files and David Duchovny Fandoms, by Pamela Stafford, M.A. and Cathy Glinski, J.D., presented at the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association annual conference on February 21, 2019.

My name is Cathy Glinski.  I’m an avid X-Phile. I was a fan of the show when it originally aired, and I’ve been rewatching it continuously since the summer of 2015.  I joined Twitter 2/19/16 to talk to others about The X-Files, and I first saw David Duchovny in person one year to the day later. This blog recounts my personal experience with developing a social media community within the X-Files fandom.

Social media allows you to interact with the world, but narrowed to individuals with common interests. It makes your world bigger and smaller at the same time. What is community?  The definition I’m focusing on here is “A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”

I was drawn to social media by the need to talk about The X-Files with others who shared that passion (this was at the time leading up to the revival of the series in 2016). I was looking for this “fellowship as a result of sharing common interests” that makes up a community. I was already on Facebook.  All middle aged moms are. So I tried an X-Files Facebook group, but I didn’t really like the tone of the conversations I was encountering, and there was no way to tailor my interactions.  I was either in the group or not.

That’s where Twitter came in.  I knew from a podcast I listened to that there were fans on Twitter talking about The X-Files.  So I set up a Twitter account, and I started following a few people, and that led me to others who led me to others.  Before long I was interacting with a group of people who seemed to be just as obsessed with The X-Files as I was.

My Facebook friends are all people I know personally. I can talk to them about all the things going on in my life, and they’re somewhat interested. But almost none of them are interested in talking X-Files with me. By contrast, I know very few of my Twitter friends personally, and I wouldn’t share much about my life on Twitter. But I can talk to them about X-Files nonstop and they will never get sick of it. We recently spent a full week in conversation about when Mulder and Scully first had sex, and that’s ok! That’s still a community.  It’s a broad group of people with limited common interests.  It’s shallow, but it’s meaningful on the level it exists. It’s a different type of community, but serves a valid function.  It’s fun.

This shallow community has led to deeper interactions as well. One of my mutuals put together a private chat group with others who had similar reactions to posts about David Duchovny.  That was the start of what I came to appreciate as true community. This very small group started by talking about our appreciation of David Duchovny and The X-Files, but soon we were sharing our personal stories as well. We found we had other things in common. We’re of similar in age, professional women, who share attitudes about not only fandom but other aspects of life.  This deeper level community group has become very important to me.

And it was this community which led me to step out of my comfort zone and try new experiences. When our group first started chatting we talked about how we would never be able to meet David in person. We wouldn’t enjoy a comic con, we’d never have an opportunity to attend a concert or book discussion, and even if we did we’d be too nervous to talk to him.  But now we’ve done all those things!

In the past two years I’ve attended two of David’s concerts, a book discussion where I got to ask him a question, a meet and greet, and two photo ops (one with Gillian Anderson as well). I’ve also attended two fan conventions and met all the major stars of The X-Files. And I attended a fundraising event where I met the creator of the show, with whom I had an actual conversation.

I’ve also discovered and pursued a new found interest in podcasting.  I started with contributing to The X-Cast, an X-Files podcast, first with ideas but then as a guest on the show.  And that community led me to a classic movie podcast hosted by another member. I’ve been a guest on The Movie Palace podcast twice, as a legal expert discussing classic courtroom movies.  I never would have imagined myself doing that, and it’s a direct result of engaging with the X-Files fandom on social media.

One of the conditions I made for myself when joining Twitter was that I would only post positive comments. I think I’ve stayed true to that.  I’ve never had any negative comments made to or about me—that I know of. And that’s really key for me. On Twitter I can scroll past negative tweets, I can mute, unfollow, block.  Simple steps that make a world of difference. We have less invested in relationships in this type of community.  It’s not as significant or painful when they end. And there’s no reason to let these relationships cause pain or discomfort.

For me, participating in a social media community has truly been self-care.  It gives me an outlet for positivity, an opportunity to spend some time on something I enjoy.  And a real source of joy for me has been developing friendships that extend beyond fandom interests.  So I do my best to avoid negativity and would leave completely if I couldn’t.

I’ve never really kept my fandom a secret from friends or family.  I just don’t talk about it a lot with most of them because they don’t get it. I’m not trying to keep anything hidden though. My close friends and family all seem to be enjoying my obsession, I think because they can see how happy it makes me. But also because it’s not something they would have ever expected from me.  I get the sense people enjoy that I seem to be acting out of character.

My take away from evaluating my experience in a social media fandom community is that through social media I was able to expand my world by narrowing my focus. I’ve found that this concept, while a revelation to me, is considered obvious to others somewhat younger than I am.  I think these generational differences in expectations regarding social media would be worth exploring further.

What’s more, and what’s most important to me, we have the ability to shape the community we engage with, both by limiting who we interact with and by the types of interactions we have.  My life is better because of the community I’ve found through engaging in a fandom on social media.